Crewe Alexandra’s search for a second league win of the season continues after Walsall scored three second half goals to inflict a fourth defeat on the Railwaymen this season, the first at Gresty Road. Craig Westcarr scored twice, once from the penalty spot, before substitute James Baxendale completed the scoring with a composed finish after he had side stepped past Mark Ellis.
Crewe’s shots at Richard O’Donnell’s goal were few and far between but AJ Leitch-Smith poked a good effort just wide of the target with the score at 1-0 and substitute Anthony Grant did force the Walsall goalkeeper into a save with a well struck effort from 25 yards.
Walsall’s three goals in a 12-minute spell killed off Crewe Alexandra’s effort and Nicky Featherstone also clipped the crossbar with a shot from distance with Steve Phillips doing exceeding well to get his glove onto it.
Steve Davis named an unchanged side for the visit of Walsall with trio Lee Molyneux, Vadaine Oliver and AJ Leitch-Smith all retaining their places after an impressive performance against Peterborough last weekend.
There was an early stoppage in the game due to an injury to forward Vadaine Oliver, but the forward was soon back up and winning his fair share of headers. He continued to be a handful and headed an early one back across goal aimed at his strike partner Leitch-Smith but Walsall’s captain Andy Butler did well to cover and head it over the crossbar. From the resultant corner, Ellis headed Molyneux’s corner over.
Both sides were playing some good possession football with one-touch used when possible and it was pleasing on the eye, although it was defences on top. A good move from Crewe saw full-back Matt Tootle and Oliver involved and Leitch-Smith’s clever chest back gave Aneke a chance to get a shot off, but it was deflected behind for a corner.
Similarly at the other end, the lively winger Ashley Hemmings crossed and Westcarr’s shot on the turn tamely went through to Steve Phillips. Walsall began to enjoy the better of the possession and were forcing Crewe backwards, but the Alex centre-halves were defending the box well and were switched on to the runs of Westcarr and Troy Hewitt behind them.
Aneke had a turn and shot over from 30 yards before Brad Inman shot tamely through to O’Donnell after some good approach play from Tootle and Leitch-Smith.
With defences on top in the first half, Harry Davis was rather fortunate to survive a booking after colliding into Sam Mantom before Ellis did well to halt the progress of Hemmings as he raced into the Crewe box.
The second period began with Aneke having another shot wide after the ball broke to him inside a crowded penalty area and minutes later Oliver lost his footing at the crucial moment just as it appeared he was going to get a shot off. Molyneux also had a shot blocked from the edge of the box as Crewe tried to make some early pressure count.
Some move good approach play from Molyneux, Aneke and the overlapping Tootle saw him cross to the far post and Oliver was unlucky to see his header clear the top of the crossbar.
The deadlock was finally broken on 64 minutes after Phillips had made a fantastic save to deny Butler from close range. Crewe were caught out at corner to allow Nicky Featherstone to get a shot off and his effort dropped perfectly at the feet of the Walsall captain but Phillips stood tall to make the initial save.
Needing to regroup from the scare, the ball was crossed back to the far post and after Butler had made a nuisance of himself, the ball dropped to Westcarr and he guided his shot home via a slight deflection off of the boot of Ellis.
Crewe needed to quickly recover their composure and Hewitt wasted a good chance after being played in Hemmings but he lashed his shot into the side netting.
The game changing moment came on 66 minutes, when Oliver flicked a long ball into the path of Leitch-Smith and his instant poke towards goal was inches wide. It was unfortunate and within two minutes Walsall had doubled their lead.
Captain Abdul Osman kept possession too long too close to his own penalty area and after he had passed the ball backward to left-back Gregor Robertson, who after turning in possession stuck a leg out to trip Westcarr. The Walsall hitman picked himself up to put Phillips the wrong way and from really witnessing a fairly even game, the Railwaymen were 2-0 down and chasing the game.
A quick double substitution saw Grant and Moore replace Oliver and Molyneux.
Westcarr nearly completed a splendid hat-trick with a superb volley that drew applause from both sets of supporters.
The last substitute saw Max Clayton replaced captain Osman as Crewe went for broke to try and get back into the contest. It was game set and match though when Walsall’s own substitute James Baxendale skipped around Ellis to go one-on-one with Phillips and he calmly slotted beyond the helpless Crewe goalkeeper for 3-0.
Clayton drifted off the wing to drag a shot wide before Grant forced a first meaningful save from O’Donnell after he tried his luck from 25 yards, but our efforts on goal were not constant enough over the 90 minutes.
There was still time for Phillips to produce another good save to deny the influential Featherstone a fourth goal when he tipped his dipping effort onto the crossbar and over.