Substitute Vadaine Oliver sprung from the substitutes' bench to salvage a point for Crewe Alexandra with a wonderful strike. From nearly 30 yards out, Oliver bustled his way through past Nathan Byrne and the covering midfield player Yaser Kasim to unleash an unstoppable shot that gave Tyrell Belford no chance. It was only Oliver’s second goal for the club and all that pent up frustration of receiving a harsh red card against Crawley at the end of November came to the forefront as he lashed his shot home.
Swindon had deservedly taken the lead just minutes into the second half through a wonderful strike from Ryan Harley after the impressive full-back Nathan Byrne showed some great skill to carry the ball across the Crewe penalty area.
The introduction of Oliver and his fellow substitute, the lively Billy Waters certainly gave Crewe a lift for the final third of the game, but they also had goalkeeper Ben Garratt to thank for keeping us in the game with some crucial saves to deny Michael Smith and Jacob Murphy when the visitors were on top.
Crewe actually had enough changes though to have claimed all three points with Chuks Aneke blazing a first half penalty over the bar and the on-loan Arsenal youngster clipping the top of the woodwork with a curling shot from 25 yards.
In fairness though a point was probably a fair result as Mark Cooper’s footballing side certainly dominated the majority of the possession in the first half.
With the on-loan goalkeeper Neil Etheridge suffering a recurrence of his thigh injury on Tuesday evening there was an immediate recall for Ben Garratt for the visit of Swindon Town. The club’s latest loan signing, winger Cameron Park, started on the substitutes’ bench but would be called into action just before the half an hour mark due to an injury to Brad Inman.
Midfielders George Evans and Abdul Osman were not deemed fit enough to be involved so young Liam Nolan started only his third senior game.
Before the start of the game there was fantastic one minute applause for club photographer Peter Warburton, who sadly passed away after last weekend’s derby at Port Vale.
The early exchanges saw Chuks Aneke dragged a shot wide of the target after being found by Byron Moore before Swindon began to get a grip of the proceedings. They began to dominate the midfield area and passed the ball the real confidence. The pacey full-back Nathan Byrne shot over Garratt’s crossbar before the fluent visitors created a great chance to take the lead. The influential Massimo Luongo and Jacob Murphy combined in the middle of the park and then slip Smith in behind Mark Ellis. Garratt rushed from his line to deny Smith with his feet and deflect it behind for a corner.
Luongo, who was arguably the outstanding player in the first half, flicked a header wide of the target before Nathan Thompson was slipped in to race towards Garratt’s goal. The full-back did appear to be offside but was allowed to go on and he could only drag a cross shot wide of the far post.
Crewe were finding it difficult to get a foot hold in the game and our passes, especially into the forward players were struggling to reach the target or being collected comfortably enough by Aneke or Pogba.
Crewe also suffered a blow when losing Bradden Inman through injury. The former Newcastle United midfielder seemed to have aggravated a groin or suffered a blow on his hip. Loan signing Park came on and played on the right with Moore switching across to the left.
Swindon continued to attack looking for the opening goal with Ryan Harley shooting wide and Smith also dragging a shot wide.
In truth, Crewe were probably in the need of the half-time whistle, but were presented with a golden chance to go in at the break in the lead. Pogba found Tootle on the overlap and his cross struck the arm of the covering Harley.
Aneke is usually so calm and composed from the penalty spot but on this occasion he lifted it and it sailed harmlessly over the bar. Crewe wouldn’t have deserved to have been ahead at the break but it was certainly a chance lost.
The penalty miss came back to haunt us just minutes into the second half. Byrne, who was a threat with his pace and directness, showed some sublime trickery on the edge of the penalty area to open up a chance for Harley to strike and he unleashed an unstoppable shot into Garratt’s top corner. It was a finish that was up there with Brentford’s trio of strikes recently executed at the Alexandra Stadium.
Swindon had the opening goal their play had deserved and now Crewe had to remain in the game. After Ellis was caught out in possession, Luongo was gifted with a free shot at goal and his effort clipped the crossbar on its way over.
Crewe couldn’t afford to concede a second goal and had Garratt to thank for again racing from his line to smother at the feet of Smith. The Crewe goalkeeper did well to make a decisive decision after being caught in two minds whether to stick or twist.
Swindon made the first change of the game with Danny N’Guessan replacing Murphy. Crewe also injected some energy with Billy Waters replacing Moore.
N’Guessan was quickly into the action and he was unlucky not to reach a through ball from Smith. Waters was the same for Crewe, settling in quickly into the pace of the game and so nearly picking out Park with a deep cross.
Tootle was the first and only player to be booked for catching Thompson but it was never that type of game and the challenge didn’t really warrant a yellow card.
Crewe remained in the game and the pattern of the play seemed to change once Oliver was introduced for Pogba. Pogba had worked his socks off but the freshness of Oliver just gave the Swindon back four extra to think about.
Oliver quickly won a free-kick from Ward and from the resultant free-kick, taken by Harry Davis, Chuks Aneke must have thought he had equalised when he reached his deep cross but Belford produced a stunning save to keep it out.
Moments later, more good play from young Waters saw Aneke unleash one of his trademark curling shots from distance that smacked the woodwork.
That passage of play, ignited the Crewe fans and with 13 minutes remaining, Oliver showed great power and strength to force his way forward and reach a long punt up the pitch first. He muscled his way past Byrne and perfectly caught the ball as it dropped. It flew over the head of Belford for a stunning equalising goal and it was the striker’s first goal since the home game against Peterborough way back in early September.
At 1-1, Crewe looked the more likely to go on and win the game. Aneke had a shot blocked as did Nolan. Grant’s work ethic to keep us going was commendable and young Waters was a thorn in Swindon’s side. He nearly became the ultimate hero but couldn’t quite get his head on a deep cross from Park.
Crewe had to keep things tight at back and both Ellis and Davis made great blocks to deny N’Guessan twice in the closing stages. Overall a point shared was probably right.