Three Fleetwood goals in a crazy seven minute period either side of the interval saw Crewe Alexandra’s grip on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy end at the Highbury Stadium. Crewe were certainly unfortunate to be 2-0 down at the break after quick fire goals from strikers David Ball and Jon Parkin in the final five minutes of the half had put Graham Alexander’s side firmly in the driving seat in the tie.
Before that rather bizarre spell, Crewe had looked the more likely side to take the lead with Oliver Turton, Anthony Grant and Byron Moore all having really good opportunities to give us the decisive first goal.
After going in at the break 2-0 down after what was a fairly encouraging performance, the misery was compounded just a minute and a half into the second half when Nathan Pond spun onto a long ball to fire past Steve Phillips at his near post to make it an incredible uphill struggle against a side brimming with confidence.
The chances continued to fall to Crewe but a stunning save from Scott Davies denied Mark Ellis from giving us a timely lifeline and both Kelvin Mellor and Vadaine Oliver forced saves from the Fleetwood stopper.
Fleetwood completed the scoring in the final minute with their substitute Matty Blair sliding in to convert a low cross from Stewart Murdock.
Steve Davis made one change to the side that lost at Notts County at the weekend with Kelvin Mellor returning to the starting line-up ahead of Jon Guthrie.
The return of Mellor meant a positional change for the reliable Matt Tootle, who moved across to left-back again.
With substitutes limited to five for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy competition there was no inclusion for reserve goalkeeper Alan Martin nor the injured Ryan Colclough.
The young forwards picked up a slight knock in last night’s Under-21 fixture with Birmingham City, but Chuks Aneke was named on the bench.
The home side included four former Crewe players in their squad with Mark Roberts, Junior Brown and Gareth Evans all starting and Antoni Sarcevic named on the substitutes’ bench.
After an early tempting cross from Byron Moore drifted out, the home side were gifted a golden chance in the opening two minutes when Mark Ellis under hit a back pass straight into the path of Jon Parkin. The former Stoke forward raced towards the Crewe goal but Steve Phillips stood up well to save with his feet. It was one almighty let off.
Moments later, Stewart Murdock warmed the gloves of Phillips with an ambitious effort from around 25 yards out but the Crewe goalkeeper was equal to it to push it away from danger.
After some early hesitation in the Crewe defence, Moore again raced away down the left wing but his cross was just intercepted before Max Clayton could reach it.
Crewe conjured up a fantastic passing move on 10 minutes that saw the ball transferred from left to right and involved a succession of players. Max Clayton injected some pace into the proceedings to find Oliver Turton on the edge of the Fleetwood penalty area and after his drive was deflected across the box, the in-coming Moore could only lift his shot over the crossbar.
It was a decent chance.
Eight minutes later, another well worked move from the visitors saw Clayton produce some sublime skill to come off the left touchline and feed Tootle on the opposite flank in space. His instant pass found the forward run of Anthony Grant but he dragged his shot wastefully wide from a good position.
Adam Dugdale was cautioned for pulling at the leg of Parkin after he had slipped trying to pinch the ball from the robust forward in a tangle. Moments later, Crewe created another really good opportunity. Grant picked out Vadaine Oliver with an accurate ball to the far post and his header back across goal found Turton, who was unfortunate to see his instant volley not nestle in the back of the net.
It looked a good save from Scott Davies but the referee bizarrely hadn’t seen his touch and awarded a goal kick. Turton, who was getting forward really well from midfield then had another shot blocked on the edge of the Fleetwood box.
In reply, Fleetwood tried their luck from distance with both Evans and Conor McLaughlin giving Philips something to consider, but their well struck efforts drifted wide of the target.
Crewe were certainly on top in the first half and deserved a goal for their efforts. Clayton forced an uncomfortable save from Davies that he just about managed to get behind for a corner. From the resultant set play, captain Abdul Osman then poked one wide of the left hand post following a scrappy melee.
Completely against the run of play, Fleetwood took the lead with five minutes of the half remaining. Mark Roberts and his fellow defender Nathan Pond worked the ball out from the back to find Liam Hogan in space and his forward pass found David Ball in fair too much space and his lofted shot gave Phillips little chance. Hogan was then booked for a late challenge on Grant.
How Crewe found themselves 2-0 down just three minutes later was anyone’s guess? It was hard to explain as Evans’ deep cross was headed home from close range by Parkin. The striker’s header took a deflection off the head of Ellis to defeat Phillips from virtually on his goal line.
The second half had barely began before following a long ball up the pitch, Nathan Pond spun on the edge of the Crewe box to fire past Phillips and make it 3-0 before the supporters had had time to settle into their seats.
Crewe tried to reply almost immediately but Clayton and then Osman saw their efforts from an early corner blocked. It was one of those nights when any sort of luck had completely deserted us.
Minutes later a clever back heal from Oliver in the Fleetwood six-yard box found the boot of a Fleetwood defender and when Davies made a fantastic save to deny Ellis with a header from close range, it summed up the way things were going. Oliver had done superbly to head back in the danger zone on that occasion but he should have been in a more advanced position to get onto a wonderful cross from Moore moments later.
The Alex continued to chase the game and tried to find that goal that would give them some hope in trying to get back into the tie, possession wise we were dominant but the scoreboard to the right hand side continued to read 3-0 to the home side. It so nearly became four when David Ball whistled a fine effort just wide of the right hand post.
After winning a free-kick from Pond, Tootle then thumped the resultant set piece just wide from 20 yards out.
Evans was booked for rather silly challenge on Tootle close to the by-line before Steve Davis made a double change with AJ Leitch-Smith and Brad Inman replacing Oliver and Turton. Evans recklessness saw him injure himself in the process and he had to be withdrawn for Matty Blair.
Pond was booked for a foul on Grant but on this occasion, Tootle over-hit his free-kick over the crossbar.
Crewe continued to enjoy the better of the ball and the chances, with Dugdale not getting his close range header on target to test Davies and after Mellor’s low cross was dummied by Leitch-Smith and Clayton, Inman saw his shot pushed away by the busier Davies.
The chances still came from the Railwaymen with substitute Aneke forcing a corner with his first involvement and Mellor forcing Davies to make a smart save with a low drive. From the resultant corner, Leitch-Smith nearly caught out the Fleetwood goalkeeper but he reacted quickly enough to tip it over the bar.
Fleetwood’s genuine chances on our goal became rather limited although Parkin nearly reached a low cross from Junior Brown.
Our former player Antoni Sarcevic replaced Ryan Crowther with ten minutes remaining.
Crewe suffered the disappointment of conceding four goals for the second times in four days when substitute Blair raced in on low cross fromMurdock to make 4-0.
When Mellor's effort was cleared off the line in stoppage time, it just about summed up our night and current run of form.