Two second half goals from Chuks Aneke and Tom Hitchcock gave Crewe Alexandra a perfect end to the year. Crewe Alexandra had to do the hard way as well after trailing at the break after Luke Garratt’s deflected free-kick had given Ben Garratt no chance. Crewe's 100% record at the Community Weston Homes Stadium continues thanks to an excellent first comeback of the season.
Crewe’s performance in the second half deserved the comeback with Aneke stroking home a cross from the excellent recalled Bran Inman before the in-form Tom Hitchcock rose highest to head home an Inman corner after the Colchester goalkeeper Sam Walker was caught under the ball.
Steve Davis elected to make one change from the side that lost 2-0 at Wolves on Boxing Day with Bradden Inman replacing Byron Moore on the left hand of the Crewe Alexandra midfield. Moore was named on the substitutes’ bench alongside fellow forward thinking players AJ Leitch-Smith and Vadaine Oliver and midfielder Anthony Grant.
Colchester United included the former Crewe Alexandra defender David Wright in their starting line-up and our former goalkeeper Ademola Bankole remains on the coaching staff of manager Joe Dunne.
The home side started the brighter in the opening exchanges with Crewe Alexandra mostly in their half of the field. There were a few penalty area skirmishes that had to be cleared before Dominic Vose had the first real half chance of the afternoon, but he couldn’t get his shot on the turn on target and it sailed harmlessly over.
Crewe’s first venture into the Colchester half saw Chuks Aneke release the recalled Brad Inman and he was unfortunate to see his low drive blocked by Magnus Okuonghae. Matt Tootle repeated an equally impressive block to deny Marcus Bean a clear shot at the Crewe goal. Tootle did well again to deny Blair Turgott a run on Ben Garratt’s goal by sliding and conceding a corner.
On 15 minutes, a superb pass down the line found a clever run from Tom Hitchcock but his drilled cross across the Colchester penalty area missed everybody. Mesca also had a weak shot at Sam Walker after Kelvin Mellor had pinched possession close to the halfway line.
Crewe’s best early chance of the first half came after 23 minutes via a corner from George Evans. Aneke reacted quickest to poke his head out and get it on target but it hit a body close to the goal line and it was cleared.
Almost immediately, Colchester also went close from a fine delivery from the on-loan Luke Garbutt. Although the initial cross into a crowded box was cleared by captain Abdul Osman, the ball flashed out to Bean and his low drive just about cleared Garratt’s right hand post.
Crewe had continued to give away a number of petty free-kicks, and after Mesca had tripped Garbutt, the Everton youngster gave the home side the lead after 28 minutes. Garbutt’s direct free-kick took a wicked deflection off the Crewe defensive wall to completely wrong-foot Garratt.
Before Crewe had time to settle and take stock of the rather unfortunate opening goal going against us, Garratt had to position himself smartly to save from Turgott as the on-loan West Ham winger ran at Mark Ellis. Garratt was also there to save from Craig Eastmond.
Crewe needed a few minutes to gather themselves but a flowing move involving Hitchcock and then Aneke allowed Inman to have another sight at the Colchester goal but Walker was equal to his well placed effort and Garbutt was on hand to touch it behind for a corner.
Garbutt was involved again with another expert delivery from a right hand corner. He found Okuonghae in far too much space and his downward header had to hacked clear by Mellor from close to the post.
Hitchcock’s first glimpse of the target came with minutes of the half remaining after an advanced Davis had cleverly headed a long ball back into his path. It was a tricky effort to execute on the volley and under pressure and the on-loan QPR forward didn’t quite connect with it right and it drifted wide of the mark.
With Crewe arguably enjoying their best spell of the half, the experienced Wright had to read and then clear from Hitchcock after a clever piece of skill had seen him aim for goal in the six-yard goal and before the half time whistle, Inman had another shot that was blocked after he had once again been found by Aneke.
Inman certainly started the second half on the front foot and was determined to run at the Colchester defence. He also collected a throw in from Mellor but didn’t generate enough power to test Walker.
Mellor had to recover and produce a goal saving intervention to deny Jabo Ibehre a simple tap in after he had somehow tricked his way round both Ellis and Garratt. Mellor’s determination managed to wrestle possession from his boot at a crucial moment. In the build up to the chance, Evans had caught Bean late and was booked.
A bright start to the second half from Crewe then saw Hitchcock head an Evans cross over the top of the crossbar. Hitchcock’s best chance of the game came moments later after a defensive mix-up in the Colchester defence. Tom Eastman hit a wayward back pass past his own goalkeeper Walker and the Crewe forward was favourite to race in and tap home into the empty net, but credit to Brain Wilson who recovered superbly to slide and prevent it crossing the line. From the resultant corner, an unsighted Walker just about scrambled a dangerous bounce away from the foot of his post.
On the hour mark, Steve Davis made his first change of the afternoon with Grant replacing the booked Evans. A well worked throw in situation then saw Inman play in Tootle and his cross shot had to be cleared before forcing Walker into a save. It was much better from the Alex as Davis planted a free-kick into the gloves of the Colchester goalkeeper.
That was enough for Dunne on the Colchester bench and he introduced the fresh legs of Clinton Morrison and Sanchez Watt.
On 67 minutes, Crewe were understandably aggrieved when Hitchcock was put through by Inman only to be pulled down by Wilson. As the Colchester defence was the last man, he should by the letter of the law have been shown a red card for a professional foul. He certainly thought he was going back to the dressing room when referee Collins reached for his cards but he only showed him a yellow card. The Crewe players and supporters were incensed by the decision and Aneke wasted the free-kick by failing to get it on target.
The pressure finally told on 73 minutes. Mellor so nearly wriggled his way through a clutch of players but after Colchester cleared the danger, the second ball was sent out to Inman and his forceful run and cut back found Aneke, who’s close range effort took a slight deflection to take it past Walker. It was no more than Crewe had deserved.
Crewe were on top and it didn’t take long for the second to arrive via an Inman corner on 76 minutes. With the Colchester goalkeeper caught in no man’s land, Hitchcock rose highest to head down and into an empty net. It was Hitchcock’s third goal of his loan spell since joining from QPR.
Inman was worrying Colchester to death with his forward runs and after he and Aneke had combined again, Osman drilled a shot that took a deflection and just about whistled past Walker’s post. Crewe’s performance in the second half had deserved the dramatic turnaround in a matter of three minutes.
With six minutes remaining, Turgott cut in from his wing position to fire a shot into the mid-drift of Garratt.
Grant made a superb challenge to halt Bean in full flight and he needed treatment from physio Rob Sharp before Garratt made a stunning one handed save to keep out a header from substitute Watt.
Crewe had to survive six minutes of injury time and it was bodies on the line time as we defended our box. To add some extra height George Ray replaced Hitchcock. The superb Inman was also replaced by Moore and Crewe held on to secure a deserved three points.