Steve Davis has always possessed an excellent recollection of past games and incidents and he went on record to suggest that his Crewe side should have won the opening game of the season against Rotherham after leading 3-1 with just minutes left on the clock.
That particular match ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Gresty Road and this return fixture was just as eventful. Rotherham eventually won the points thanks to a 4-2 win but Crewe were very much in this encounter.
The Alex had led twice in the match thanks to a first half strike from Brad Inman and then through a poacher like finish from full-back Kelvin Mellor but a spirited Rotherham side always possessed a threat of their own with Kieran Agard cancelling out Inman’s early opener and their captain Lee Frecklington firing home from the penalty spot after our former loanee Tom Hitchcock had been felled by Mark Ellis.
Just minutes after Frecklington had slotted home his contested spot-kick, Harry Davis then missed a penalty for Crewe with the Rotherham goalkeeper Adam Collin guessing right to push it to safety.
Alex Revell then made it a double punishment by heading home a Ben Pringle cross to put the home side ahead for the first time before Frecklington raced onto a pass from Michael O’Connor to seal the points in the dying minutes with an emphatic finish past Ben Garratt.
With a selection of players returning from injury and suspension, Steve Davis had some difficult decisions to make concerning team selection for the club’s first ever visit to Rotherham’s New York Stadium.
The Alex boss selected midfielder Anthony Grant ahead of the returning George Evans. The on-loan Manchester City youngster had to settle for a place on the substitutes’ bench following his one-match suspension after collating five yellow cards.
With Tom Hitchcock electing to move on loan to opponents Rotherham yesterday his place up front went to AJ Leitch-Smith. Hitchcock started on the bench for the Millers.
Mathias Pogba was named on the Crewe Alexandra bench for the first time this season. Pogba had missed the first five months of the campaign after suffering a serious knee injury against Manchester United back in pre-season and his timely return will certainly give everyone a lift going forward.
The home side created the first half chance of the afternoon in the opening seconds of the match but after showing a delicate touch to evade Abdul Osman on the edge of our box, winger Keiran Agard could only drag his shot wide of the far post.
After just eight minutes, the recalled Leitch-Smith had a great chance to put the Railwaymen ahead after being sent clear by the influential Chuks Aneke. Leitch-Smith was one-on-one with Adam Collin with Miles Addison in pursuit but he dragged his shot into the grounded goalkeeper’s mid-drift.
Leitch-Smith didn’t have to wait long to make amends after breaking the offside trap again just two minutes later. It appeared that the striker had lost his chance by cutting back inside but after he finally got his shot off, it struck the post and the supportive Brad Inman drove home the rebound for his second goal of the season.
An exciting opening to a quick game then saw Alex Revell go extremely close to heading home an equaliser on 13 minutes. The firm header from the Rotherham striker certainly beat Ben Garratt but clipped the top of the crossbar and diverted close to our goal line. Under severe pressure from Harry Davis, Agard was unable to turn in the rebound from a tight angle.
The half chances continued with Mark Ellis doing superbly to hook the ball back over his own head to deny the dangerous Agard another possible effort at our goal. At the other end, Rotherham were perhaps a bit fortunate to escape a mass melee infront of Collin’s goal. Davis, Leitch-Smith and then Inman all had close range attempts that were blocked and the ball was eventually cleared up the pitch.
After Grant had gifted the Millers a corner, Crewe defended their six-yard box well, Lee Frecklington shot over the top of the crossbar after Leitch-Smith applied sufficient pressure on their captain.
Crewe held out until just before the half an mark and only had themselves to blame for not clearing the initial danger. After Kelvin Mellor had won his header at the far post, Moore strangely fired his clearance up into the air and back towards his own six-yard. It was horrendous clearance and after falling to deal with it, Agard squeezed a shot past Tootle and into the far corner. From a Crewe point of view it was such an avoidable goal to concede.
The equalising goal certainly lifted the Millers and they began to enjoy the better of the possession and threaten with the diagonal longer ball into Revell.
On 40 minutes, Haris Vuckic broke the offside trap but after delaying his shot, Davis stood up well to make an initial block and Agard fired low into the gloves of Garratt. Ellis then did well to get across and Vuckic and deflect a cross from Ben Pringle behind for a corner.
Just before the half-time break, Mark Bradley was cautioned for pulling back Leitch-Smith on the touchline before Revel drove a shot over the top. There was still enough time for Aneke and Moore to combine down the right hand side but Addison did well to get to Moore’s cross ahead of Leitch-Smith.
The second half began with Moore and Inman trying to make inroads from wide areas but the Rotherham full-backs were being helped out by their midfielders to double up. Inman did have a firm shot blocked on the edge of the box by Bradley after he had been found superbly by Aneke.
Garratt was forced into an early save from Vuckic but was right behind it to save comfortably. Davis also did well to deny Revell a clear run at goal from another dangerous delivery from Pringle.
Just before the hour mark, Tootle did brilliantly to chase a lost cause and win a corner from which Crewe retook the lead. Ellis and Davis challenged inside a crowded penalty area and after Aneke seemed to lose his footing, Mellor spun superbly to dispatch his shot past Collin. It was Mellor’s first goal since scoring against Bristol Rovers in April 2012 during our promotion winning season.
Mellor’s striker-like finish prompted the arrival of Tom Hitchcock for Vuckic. Aneke then had a god chance by his standards to make it 3-1 after Inman had carried the ball to the edge of the box but the on-loan Arsenal starlet dragged his shot wide of the mark.
Inman was having more of an influence and after forceful run saw him nearly pick out Leitch-Smith but Collin did well to get his glove onto it.
Hitchcock, who chose to sign on loan from QPR only yesterday then won a penalty on 66 minutes. Ellis and Hitchcock collided right on the edge of the penalty area and referee Hill pointed to the penalty spot. The Alex players were incensed that the incident had been outside the area and were none too pleased with their former team-mate either. Ellis was booked and Frecklington drilled home the spot kick for 2-2.
Referee Hill soon evened things up on 71 minutes by awarding a penalty to the Alex after Addison seemed to go through the back of Leitch-Smith. The Rotherham defender was also cautioned for the offence. Davis stepped up, like he had done on the opening day of the season against Rotherham, but this time Collin guessed right to push it away.
In such a topsy-turvy encounter, the home side took the lead for the first time on 73 minutes as Revell pulled off at the far post to head home Pringle’s excellent cross. It was remarkable from seeing a penalty saved to going behind for the first time at the New York Stadium.
Crewe tried to hit back again but Collin was right behind another effort from Aneke. Then after a smart turn and pass from Osman, Aneke pulled another shot just wide of the target. He was even closer with a diving header after a wonderful cross from Moore. Aneke really should have hit the target to give Collin no chance.
With just over 10 minutes left on the clock, Pogba made his long awaited return with the hard working Leitch-Smith making way. Rotherham made a change of their own with our former player Michael O’Connor replacing Robert Milsom.
With time running out Garratt had to be watchful to make a smart save onto his post after Revell had shot through the legs of Harry Davis.
Crewe were always going to chase a point in the closing stages but after O’Connor had bundled into Grant to steal possession his pass sent Frecklington clear for him to score his second and Rotherham’s killer fourth goal of the afternoon.