Ryan Colclough made a sensational return to first team action to score a dramatic late winner for the Alex at Bramall Lane. The second half substitute unleashed an unstoppable late shot to give Mark Howard no chance and seal a 2-1 victory and a first ever win at Bramall Lane.
With three forward players on the pitch at all times, Crewe boss Steve Davis bravely went for it against the play-off hopefuls and it paid off with Lauri Dalla Valle firing Crewe into an 12th minute lead after he had been played in by Uche Ikpeazu.
Sheffield United drew level ten minutes into the second half through Jason Holt and although Chris Basham hit the post with a header, the grandstand finish was set-up for the returning Colclough.
With midfielder James Jones and forward Marcus Haber away on International duty, Steve Davis was forced into two changes for the trip to Bramall Lane. Chris Atkinson and Lauri Dalla Valle came into the starting line-up as Crewe Alexandra altered their formation to a more attack minded 4-3-3.
With the extra defender going out of the side there was no place for Jon Guthrie, who dropped back down to the substitutes’ bench. Powerful striker Uche Ikpeazu also earned a recall after he scored for the Under-21s on Monday evening against Queens Park Rangers. Ikpeazu had begun on the bench for the visit of Oldham Athletic last weekend.
The recent form of Ryan Colclough saw him return to the first team squad for the first time since November 2013 after a number of injury problems.
The former Crewe Alexandra defender John Brayford captained the Blades this afternoon.
An early period of possession from the Railwaymen saw us keep the ball with real purpose and move into the Sheffield United half of the pitch. After just three minutes, Ikpeazu tried to use his brawn to bustle his way through the Sheffield rearguard but the ball was played off him and it ran harmlessly through to Mark Howard.
In reply, the home side whistled over a low cross across our penalty area before Ryan Flynn had a powerful shot blocked on the edge of the box by Tate. Harry Davis then threw himself in front of a shot from Jose Baxter as the Blades began to increase the tempo.
The recalled Atkinson then did superbly to block a close range effort from Baxter after he manoeuvred himself to connect with a far post header from Chris Basham. Baxter’s effort from the well worked corner was on target but the Alex midfielder was well placed to make the block.
Crewe took the lead after just 12 minutes. Ikpeazu showed great strength to hold the ball up and turn Basham before releasing the run of Dalla Valle. The Finnish striker had cleverly raced in behind Brayford and showed great composure to lift his shot past Howard. It was his first goal of the season following his return to the club. It was a wonderfully crafted goal and after escaping a booking for clattering into full-back Bob Harris, he could have added a second goal moments later.
More encouraging attacking play from the Alex saw Ajose race into yards of open space down the Sheffield United right hand side, but he couldn’t quite find the run of Lauri Dalla Valle inside the six yard box. A slight deflection on the low cross took it away from the danger zone. More encouraging attacking play from the Railwaymen then saw Ness nearly pick out the run of Ajose. To his credit Howard had read the situation to deny him a clear run on the edge of the box.
On 22 minutes, Crewe broke with real purpose with midfielder Anthony Grant breaking from the middle of the park. He could have played Ikpeazu in behind but elected to perform the more difficult reverse pass into Ajose. He executed it perfectly to give Ajose another chance on goal but he drilled his shot into the chest of Howard. It was really encouraging play from the Alex in the final third.
Sheffield United did have the ball in the net but Steven Davies was adjudged to have fouled Paul Rachubka and despite Flynn tapping into an empty net it was understandably chalked off by referee James Adcock.
On the half an hour mark, Brayford acquired a yard of space at a corner but couldn’t keep his effort down enough to test Rachubka for the first time this afternoon. Tate also did well to deny Baxter a clear header from another Murphy corner before Davies dragged a cross-shot wide after being played in by Kieron Freeman.
Tate took a booking in the final minute of the first half as Jason Holt looked to be launching a dangerous counter attack. Crewe went in at the interval 1-0 ahead and in truth they could have been even more comfortable with the Ajose chance.
At half time, Nigel Clough made a change with Ben Davies replacing Flynn for the second period. The Blades substitute had an early opportunity to swing over a free-kick but he delivered it behind for a goal kick. It only increased the anxiety in the Sheffield crowd.
Five minutes into the second half a forceful run from Brayford was halted by Greg Leigh and on the break Ness found Ikpeazu on the edge of the Blades box but the powerful striker just lost his footing at the crucial moment and conceded a free-kick when his hand touched the ball as he fell.
Davies was then booked for the home side after clattering into Harry Davis as he cleared up field.
The home side equalised ten minutes into the second half. Sheffield United were able to get the influential Murphy into a one-v-one situation with Turton on the right hand and although the full-back stood up well, his low cross found Holt. He still had a lot of to do but produced a sublime deft touch to take the ball in his stride, flicking it up before firing low past Rachubka from close range.
Baxter was a constant threat with his quick feet and he produced a moment of skill to find Murphy on the edge of the penalty area, but he could only drag his shot well wide of the target. Baxter tried his luck from 25 yards but it was simple for Rachubka to collect.
On 66 minutes, more hold up play from Ikpeazu laid off a chance to the supportive Harry Davis and his low drive from 20 yards was well held by Howard. Two minutes later, Colclough made his return to first team action for Ikpeazu.
A run from Davies ends with a tame shot straight at the Crewe goalkeeper as the anxiety stakes goes up another notch. Sheffield United made a double change with Matty Done and Michael Doyle replacing Davies and Baxter. Crewe also made a change with Atkinson making way for Anthony Stewart. Turton moved into midfield with Stewart filling in at right-back.
From a left wing corner, the physical Basham looked to have lost his footing at the far post but the centre-half still managed to get his head to the cross and Crewe were rather fortunate to see his effort rebound off the post and it was hooked away to safety. Moments later, Murphy curled his effort a yard wide after the ball had inadvertently found its way over to him on the Crewe right.
With ten minutes remaining, a superb pass out of defence from Ness released Ajose into space down the left hand side. He did well to find Dalla Valle inside the Sheffield box and although he looked as though he was going to carry the ball back out, he spun sharply and got a good shot off but Howard had read his intentions to make the save.
Crewe’s final change saw the fresh legs of Brad Inman introduced for Nicky Ajose, who had certainly produced a shift for the team out on the left.
As the final few minutes ticked away at Bramall Lane, Freeman whistled a really looking cross across the box and it only needed a decisive touch to cause Rachubka a problem.
After Grant had been tripped on the edge of the box, Colclough’s well struck effort took a deflection off the wall and it spun behind for the corner. Ness took it short and it was worked out to Colclough and he unleashed a wonderful shot to defeat Howard and give Crewe all three points!