Prior to our trip to Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium, Steve Davis had proclaimed that it was always going to a tight affair against Dean Smith’s side and so it proved but Crewe Alexandra snatched all three points with seven minutes left on the clock. In a game of few genuine chances it really was defences on top in the main until Adam Dugdale smashed home from close range at a corner.
Crewe substitute Billy Waters won the initial corner and after the impressive George Ray won the first header and Romaine Sawyers missed his clearance, Dugdale held him off to shoot past Richard O’Donnell.
It gave the Alex their first win at the Banks’s Stadium since 1999 when an impressive display that day from Dario Gradi’s men saw us win 4-1 back in the Championship. This encounter was never going to be anything like that. It was the tight affair that Davis had predicted but the game plan worked a treat as Crewe secured back-to-back wins.
Over the course of the 90 minutes, Crewe arguably shaded the better of the chances, especially early on when Brad Inman ‘s intended lob just cleared the far post and Dugdale had volleyed a Matt Tootle free-kick over.
Steve Davis enjoyed the luxury of naming an unchanged side for the first time this season with the Crewe Alexandra boss again going with an attacking three of youngster George Cooper, Brad Inman and the former Saddler Febian Brandy in a flexible 3-5-2 formation.
Marcus Haber returned from International duty with Canada, but had to settle for a place on the substitutes bench alongside the well again Billy Waters. The club’s two leading goal getters’ for the season had to settle for a place on the bench as was the form of the front three last weekend against Coventry City.
Defender Harry Davis was deemed not quite fit enough to earn that recall to the first-team squad following his return from a long standing knee injury.
Two minutes in and a neat double step over from Brandy took him away from Romaine Sawyers down the right wing but his cross didn’t quite reach Inman on the edge of the Walsall box.
Inman did reach Ollie Turton’s searching an accurate cross-field pass two minutes later and he was rather unlucky to see his controlled volley just clear Richard O’Donnell’s far post. If it had been on target it would have certainly given the Walsall goalkeeper something to consider. In response, Mal Benning forced Ben Garratt into his first save after seeing his effort deflected goalwards off the boot of Tootle.
Crewe were presented with another chance after eight minutes this time via a Tootle free-kick. The advanced Adam Dugdale
acquired some room inside the penalty area but couldn’t direct his volley on target to trouble O’Donnell. It looked a good chance.
On 16 minutes, Grant applied enough pressure on young Reece Flanagan on the edge of the penalty area to rob him of possession but his shot was straight at O’Donnell. Romaine Sawyers then had Garratt scrambling across his line to make sure he had his low drive covered.
On 24 minutes, the Alex conjured up another good chance. Some patient passing allowed Alan Tate the time and space to send a diagonal pass searching towards the advancing Tootle. Benning made a mess of his headed clearance to allow the Crewe captain to race into the vacated space down the right hand side and his cut back found Brandy.
The on-loan Rotherham forward hit a first time effort that O’Donnell seemed to have but it squirmed from his grasp and he was lucky to grab it at the second attempt after the ball had bounced through his legs and was spinning towards the line.
With Crewe creating the better of the opportunities, Tate headed just over after a clever run to meet Cooper’s delivery.
Walsall continued to pass the ball, looking for openings of their own and they certainly looked to push full-back Ben Purkiss on whenever they could to provide service from the Crewe left. Sawyers was a threat operating in the hole, but the Crewe defence were standing firm and protecting Garratt’s goal well.
That good work was so nearly undone from a training ground corner. The Walsall players discussed what they were going to do before advancing into the penalty area, but with our concentration lost for a second they worked the corner out short to Andy Taylor. The former Crewe loanee drilled a shot goalwards and it seemed to hit the head of Jordan Cook to send it over. The Walsall forward was on his own and on side.
The first half ended with Walsall on top possession wise. A risky ball out from Ray into Turton saw Walsall snatch possession back, but Benning dragged his shot wide of the far post. It was a rare mistake as Crewe had been pretty assured playing out from the back.
After he made a superb block on a shot from Anthony Forde, Anthony Grant needed attention on his back but he was quickly up to defend the corner. Crewe actually broke quickly from the resultant corner and Inman showed great pace and purpose to carry the ball almost the full length of the pitch but he was eventually crowded out on the edge of the Walsall box. Moments later Turton tested the alertness of O’Donnell when the ball dropped invitingly for him to strike from 25 yards out.
As the second half ignited into some life, Sawyers curled an effort a yard wide but Garratt had manoeuvred across to have it covered. Tate was also on hand to hack the ball away after a block on a shot from Taylor had caused a mini-scramble on the edge of the Crewe penalty area.
Cooper was booked for bumping into Benning close to the touchline. It was a soft caution. Benning was replaced on the hour by Mathieu Manset.
A probing run from Inman saw him make the deadball line and his cross was flicked up off the gloves of O’Donnell and the Walsall goalkeeper had to react quickly to punch it away from the head of Cooper. Crewe made a change of their own on 64 minutes with Haber replacing Brandy, who received warm applause from both sets of supporters. Flanagan also made way for Billy Clifford for the home side.
With 20 minutes remaining a deep cross from Forde found Cook at the far post but he could only direct his header straight at the well positioned Garratt. Turton was the second Crewe player to be booked for a late challenge in midfield.
Manset showed great power to take a ball down on his chest but Tate used his experience to edge him away from goal and his eventual cross shot went out for a throw-in on the opposite side of the pitch. The on loan Swansea defender showed great potential sense all afternoon.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, Garratt did well to back pedal and tip over a chip from Cook and from the resultant corner, defender Andy Butler leapt highest but couldn’t get his header on target.
As the match entered the final ten minutes, James Baxendale replaced winger Forde and Crewe quickly made a switch of their own with the hard working Cooper making way for the fresher legs of Waters.
He made an instant impact when winning the corner from which the deadlock would finally be broken. With Cooper off, Waters took it and Ray leapt highest at the far post to head downwards into the six yard box. Sawyers swung at it but got the ball caught in his feet and Dugdale reacted quickly to smash the ball home from close range for his first goal of the season.
Crewe had to see the dying minutes out but a deflected effort from the energetic Turton looped into the arms of O’Donnell before Chris Atkinson was introduced for Inman to add some fresh legs in the middle of the park.