Crewe Alexandra’s drew their third successive game 1-1 this afternoon and similarly to the clashes with Leyton Orient and Peterborough United, this Walsall game followed a very similar pattern. Very good first half, pinned back at times in the second half.
The Canadian forward Marcus Haber headed the Alex in front as early as the 13th minute but the spirited Saddlers hit back with a deflected effort from Tom Bradshaw with just nine minutes remaining. His turn and shot took a wicked deflection off Harry Davis's face to divert the shot in completely the wrong direction and bounce away from the despairing Paul Rachubka.
Crewe had to settle for a point after the Walsall goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell made a solid save with both hands to deny Anthony Grant a potential late winner.
For the visit of Dean Smith’s Saddlers on loan defender Alan Tate was ruled out with an ankle injury, thus resulting in a forced change and alteration in system. Chris Atkinson returned to the starting line-up after overcoming an ankle problem as Crewe Alexandra switched to 4-3-3.
Ryan Colclough returned to the substitutes’ bench after overcoming his own ankle problem and Steve Davis named an attack-minded squad with the likes of youngsters George Cooper, Callum Saunders and the powerful Uche Ikpeazu in reserve.
An early opportunity soon presented itself to Nicky Ajose after the advanced left-back Greg Leigh had picked him out with a cross. Ajose controlled the ball with his chest before getting a firm shot off that Richard O’Donnell did well to get a strong hand to.
Crewe then lost Chris Atkinson through injury after just five minutes. The combative midfielder made a strong but fair tackle on Romaine Sawyers close to the touchline and seemed to dislocate his shoulder in the process as Sawyers landed on him. He was stretched off and had to be replaced by Liam Nolan.
Following a bright start from the Alex that saw dangerous low crosses from the impressive Ollie Turton and Lauri Dalla Valle cut out inside the six-yard box, Crewe deservedly took the lead on 13 minutes.
Haber raced onto a through ball from Ajose to leave James O’Connor and James Cambers in his wake but in a one-on-one showdown with O’Donnell, he smacked the crossbar with his powerful drive. Ajose though chased the rebound down and returned the ball into a box and there was the re-set Haber to climb over O’Connor and head forcefully past the Walsall goalkeeper for his 8th goal of the campaign.
Turton was aggressive in his approach and he made a superb recovery challenge to deny Bradshaw a clear run at goal. Haber’s height was dominating the Walsall centre-halves and he had Ajose and Dalla Valle buzzing around him to make it a really productive first half from Crewe.
Another good move involving Nolan and the lively Dalla Valle allowed Turton to whip over another dangerous delivery that just needed a touch.
Walsall had their moments too with Bradshaw dragging a shot wide of the target and Michael Cain drilling a shot into the side netting after he nipped between Grant and Nolan on the edge of the box.
The first half drew to a close with the former Crewe loanee defender Andy Taylor poke an effort just wide of the post after Sawyers had headed possession back across the box.
In first half stoppage time, the Alex had a strong appeal for a penalty when Ajose again released Haber through on goal. On this occasion, the retreating Taylor got back at him and must have applied enough pressure for him to screw his shot wide of the mark. Haber certainly believed he had been impeded but the referee only awarded a goal kick to the visitors.
Walsall came out in the second period and certainly got hold of more of the possession. Their patient approach began to see Crewe in retreat and only aiming to play more on the counter attack.
Greg Leigh was called upon early to make a block from Kieron Morris and Bradshaw ran a shot straight through to the gloves of Rachubka as he tried to battle his way past Davis and Ray.
Some more solid defending from Davis saw him cut out a cross from Taylor before Walsall boss Dean Smith introduced Jordan Cook for Morris. A cross-come-shot from full-back Ben Purkiss almost dipped at the crucial moment to really trouble the Alex keeper.
At the other end, Haber won a flick on that nearly dropped through to Ajose and in doing so it forced the alert O’Donnell to rush from his line and clear up the pitch. A left hand corner from James Jones was superb and just evaded Ray and Haber. Another cross from Ajose was just too high for the onrushing Jones as he aimed to arrive late inside a crowded box.
Almost immediately Harry Davis was called upon to deny Jordy Hiwula a clear run at goal and Crewe continued to be on the back foot. The boss replaced the hard working but tiring Haber for Colclough and shifted Dalle Valle more centrally.
Walsall though continued to press the ball and although Rachubka was not called upon to make too many saves they looked threatening when operating in and around our box. Crewe though were standing firm and defending the penalty area reasonably well.
The Walsall pressure continued without Rachubka being forced into notable saves until that unfortunate equaliser on 81 minutes. The ball was switched out to full-back Purkiss and his low cross should have been dealt with by either Leigh or Nolan but the ball ran through to Bradshaw and his turn and shot clipped Davis in the face to divert it past the wrong-footed Rachubka.
Crewe’s best effort to win it saw a burst from Grant see him catch a lay off from Ajose perfectly and his forceful shot had to be handled well by O’Donnell.
A late half chance from the visitors had Crewe hearts in mouth as a deflected effort from Cook just took it past the post.