Crewe Alexandra’s winless streak extended to eight games thanks to two very late goals in the first half from a well placed Sean O’Hanlon at a corner and a quick fire second from Matty Robson, but other than those crazy two and half minutes in stoppage time, a spirited Alex had contained the Cumbrian side pretty well. A lapse of concentration mixed in with some poor positioning during the build up to the second goal cost us dearly and made for a tough ask in the second half.
It could have been very different if an acrobatic effort from Vadaine Oliver had been allowed to stand mid-way through the first half but in fairness to Haines he had already whistled to halt play after Adam Dugdale had suffered a head injury when winning the first header.
There were some promising signs but in truth the Carlisle goalkeeper Ben Amos was determined not to be beaten this evening, making a diving save to push away a fine effort from Matt Tootle and denying Oliver twice from close range when rushing from his line to smother his chances.
Harry Davis did keep himself going to the death and headed home his third goal of the season from a late Michael West corner to give Crewe a late lifeline. We could have snatched an unlikely draw as well with the lively West forcing Amos into an excellent save in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Steve Davis named the same starting eleven that took on local rivals Port Vale on Saturday. The only loss was winger Ryan Colclough who didn’t travel to Cumbria due to a heavy cold. His place on the substitutes’ bench went to a fit-again Michael West.
Crewe Alexandra made a bright start to the match and were a bit unfortunate not to take an early lead when Vadaine Oliver had a header cleared off the line from a corner taken by AJ Leitch-Smith. The Alex continued to obtain some promising positions when breaking in numbers but slowly and surely the home side began to get a firmer grip on the possession. Crewe were forced back into their own half and were defending in numbers to contain Carlisle.
It was working well until Leitch-Smith and Oliver just began to fail in holding the play up or winning their flick ons. Carlisle’s possession football nearly told in the 13th minute when a flowing and accurate passing move unlocked what had been a tight rearguard action from the Alex. Some fluent passes saw Sean O’Hanlon through but a combination of the retreating Harry Davis and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge managed to get something on it to smuggle it behind for a corner.
Crewe continued to invite pressure but were defending their penalty area well enough not to see the club’s on loan Fulham goalkeeper troubled too much. He came for a few crosses but also rushed a couple of his kicks up the pitch. Defender Max Ehmer tried his luck with an ambitious effort from distance and Adam Dugdale had to cut out a dangerous looking cross from the dangerous Robson. The Alex defender followed up that interception with arguably the pass of the night out to the touchline to find Leitch-Smith.
After weathering Carlisle’s prolonged spell of possession, Crewe’s luckless streak continued on 26 minutes. A free-kick was struck into the Carlisle box by Davis and in winning the header, Dugdale suffered a head injury that the referee was quick to whistle for the collision but in the second phase, Vadaine Oliver produced an overhead kick of the highest calibre. It was simply brilliant and gave Ben Amos in the Carlisle goal no chance with its accuracy off of the inside of the bar. Crewe were obviously annoyed that the play wasn’t allowed to evolve but in fairness the safety of Dugdale was paramount and the goal didn’t stand.
The disallowed goal did inspire some more attacks from the Railwaymen with Oliver soon flicking another header into the path of Leitch-Smith and after he had played a one-two with Moore he shot a yard over the crossbar. Oliver then didn’t make the most of a promising attack after George Evans had broken from midfield.
Robson was a lively wide man for the home side and he nearly reached a deep cross after Evans had lost possession too close to our own box and Ellis had to be alert to stop a midfield run from Liam Noble.
At the other end of the pitch, the former Wigan and Spurs full-back Pascal Chimbonda bravely reached a cross from Moore ahead of the diving Leitch-Smith.
Crewe had produced a fairly comfortable containing job on Carlisle but that work was undone in the final minutes of the half. Firstly Lee Miller stole a yard on a slipping Dugdale to meet a cross from Robson but a well placed Etheridge pushed his header over the top. Ellis headed the initial corner out but David Symington returned it with a fantastic shot and Sean O’Hanlon seemed to get a nick on it ahead of Etheridge.
Crewe needed to get into the dressing room but conceded a second goal just seconds later. It was far too easy as well with Miller winning a header and sending Robson into yards of free space. With the Crewe back five absent without leave, the wide men took his time before drilling it past a helpless Etheridge. Somehow Crewe had now gone in at the interval two goals adrift.
Carlisle smelt blood at the beginning of the second half and only some timely interceptions from Davis and another from Dugdale prevented crosses reaching O’Hanlon and Miller inside the box. Carlisle were on the front foot and midfielder James Berrett was unfortunate to see his spectacular shot from 25 yards smack the Crewe crossbar.
The Alex did settle after the early onslaught and Matt Tootle did force Amos into a smart save after he tried his luck with an accurate shot from 20 yards. The former Manchester United trainee had to push his effort away for a corner.
Ten minutes into the half, saw Steve Davis make a change of personnel and tactics. Young Billy Waters was handed his senior debut to add some attacking zest from the left hand side of midfield as Crewe switched to 4-4-2. Waters was busy early on and confident enough to take on the experienced Chimbonda.
A long throw from Mellor from the right did cause some panic inside the Carlisle box but again Amos did well to throw himself in front of a shot on the turn from Oliver, after Dugdale’s initial shot had been blocked.
The Alex needed a lifeline back into the game and certainly stepped up in the possession stakes. We forced a number of corner and free-kicks but credit to Carlisle who continued to defend their own box with real purpose. There was a loud appeal from Dugdale at one free-kick after Amos had appeared to have taken out Abdul Osman rather than have got something on the high ball.
The Carlisle goalkeeper did superbly again though to rush out from his line to deny Oliver yet again. The Alex striker swivelled onto a pass around the corner from Osman and must have thought he had scored when he connected powerfully, but by then Amos had already read the situation to be on top of him and spread himself to take the full force of the shot.
With 12 minutes remaining, Miller should have rounded off the game after taking advantage of a slip from Dugdale but he couldn’t direct his shot on target from an acute angle.
Crewe then introduced West for Leitch-Smith, as Crewe went in search of the goal that could have made the final stages interesting. The Railwaymen continued to force corners and West tried his luck with an shot that was blocked on the edge of the box. Evans also had a decent effort from a free-kick but the well-placed Amos was equal to it.
The Carlisle United substitute Lewis Guy had a late chance to make it 3-0 but he could only poke his shot wide. Harry Davis then showed great courage to keep out Miller with a splendid block before Etheridge was forced into a late save to keep out Robson.
Crewe’s passage into the game came too late with the hard working Harry Davis heading a late West corner past Amos, but the Carlisle keeper had to deny West deep into stoppage time with an excellent save.