A topsy-turvy afternoon in the Wiltshire frost ended with Crewe, eventually, losing 4-3 thanks to a last minute winner from our former forward Nicky Ajose.
Crewe should have collected something for their efforts, mainly for their excellent attacking play in the first half, but we were left to rue allowing a two-goal lead at the break to slip through our fingers within seven minutes of the re-start and with Swindon pressing and looking to win the game, it was poacher Ajose in the right place to tap home a 92nd minute winner to leave the Alex completely shell shocked again.
It was another late winner against the Alex and they are proving costly at the bottom of League One.
Two goals from the recalled Brad Inman and a wonderful solo goal from Ryan Colclough had quickly allowed us to get over a 14th minute opener from Ajose, but our 3-1 half-time lead quickly evaporated within seven second half minutes. The Robins got themselves firmly back into the contest after just two minutes of the re-start with Jonathan Obika heading home a cross from Fabien Robert and five minutes later the unfortunate Ben Nugent deflected a cross from Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill past Ben Garratt.
Swindon pressed looking for that late winner and Ajose popped up with the goods in the 92nd minute after he pounced onto a rebound off of Garratt to convert his second goal of the game. It was heartbreaking again for the Railwaymen.
Crewe had slipped behind after 14 minutes with our former loan forward Nicky Ajose helping himself to a tap-in but Inman quickly latched onto a poor defensive mistake from Jordan Turnbull to draw us level on 20 minutes.
Five minutes later, Crewe unlocked the Swindon Town defence on their own accord with the excellent Ryan Colclough dancing his way past two challenges inside the box before drilling a low shot past Lawrence Vigouroux for his eighth of the season.
With Swindon unable to really play out from the back, Marcus Haber then exposed Turnbull again close to the by-line and his low cross was tucked away by a grateful Inman on 39 minutes.
It was a fantastic first half performance from the Alex and that is what made the first seven minutes of the second period even more frustrating. Obika headed a Robert cross home to make it 2-3 within two minutes of the re-start and five minutes later Nugent's own goal made it all square again.
With Ryan Lowe and Adam King returning to their parent clubs following the expiry of their loan deals, the first-team door at Crewe re-opened for midfielder Billy Bingham and forward Brad Inman. After being used as an impact substitute in recent weeks, Inman returned to the starting line-up at the County Ground in an attacking role alongside Marcus Haber and it paid dividends. Colclough acted as the spearhead of a diamond with Captain David Fox at its base.
Young midfielder Joe Howell was named in the senior squad for the first time in his career and Callum Ainley also travelled to Wiltshire to take his place on a young bench. That average age though was boosted by new signing Zoumana Bakayogo, who was named in the squad for the first time after earning his contract this week following two years of injury misery with his knee.
Interim Swindon boss Luke Williams named our former loanee striker Nicky Ajose in his starting XI.
Despite the frost gripping the country, the game kicked off with the sun beaming in Wiltshire and the playing surface appeared in very good condition.
Crewe full-back Ollie Turton swung over an early cross aimed for Haber that was cleared up field and in the next phase of play, a lunging tackle from Jon Guthrie on Jonathan Obika conceded an early free kick just outside our penalty area. Midfielder Anton Rodgers took the responsibility with a curling effort but an alert Ben Garratt was primed to push it away to safety.
Swindon continued to apply some early pressure on the Crewe goal and Garratt had to be alert again when Fabien Robert tried to catch us out at a short corner. The Frenchman’s well struck shot looked destined for the top corner until Garratt adjusted his feet accordingly to tip it over his crossbar.
Crewe conjured up two promising moves on the break but the final ball from first Turton and then Haber, who had cleverly broken the offside trap to race unopposed down the left-hand, just failed to find their intended targets. We would continue to get joy playing down the sides though.
Swindon took the lead on 14 minutes after getting their right-back Bradley Barry in behind Guthrie. A swift passing move from the home side opened up the Crewe back line and our former loan forward Ajose reacted first to fire high into the net from Barry’s low cross. It was Ajose’s 13 the goal of the season after re-signing for the Wiltshire on a permanent basis in the summer.
The Railwaymen responded superbly from that set-back by drawing level on 20 minutes. The Swindon centre-half Jordan Turnbull attempted a header back to his goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux but it was never going to reach him and Inman pounced to calmly slot past the exposed Swindon goalkeeper to mark his return to the team with his fourth goal of the season. It was Inman’s first goal since he found the net against Southend back in late September.
James Jones was booked five minutes after the equaliser for a shirt pull on Yaser Kasim but Swindon wasted the free-kick position and Crewe took full advantage. The original offender, Jones, intercepted possession to feed Colclough and the in-form forward did the rest. His pace and power took him inside the Swindon box and after side stepping a tackle from Turnbull, he gave Vigouroux absolutely no chance with a superb finish. It was a fantastic solo goal from Colclough and was another wonderful goal to add to his growing collection. It took his tally to eight goals for the season.
Swindon tried to regroup and come again and Nugent was booked for a challenge close to the by-line. Crewe continued to look a massive threat on the attack though and the excellent Colclough again showed great skill to manoeuvre himself into position to fire a shot across goal that Vigouroux did well to palm out and then Jones and Haber just couldn’t reach the tempting rebound. It was really encouraging stuff from the Railwaymen.
Our attacking zest proved decisive again on 39 minutes with Haber skipping away from Turnbull down the right hand side of the pitch. The Canadian striker took it unopposed into the Swindon box before he rolled it invitingly across the six-yard box for Inman to guide home his second of the afternoon. It was another well crafted goal to put us firmly in the driving seat heading into half-time.
Crewe were passing the ball around with a real confidence and our movement, especially in wide areas saw us get in behind the Swindon back line almost at will. With the first half drawing to a close, another fantastic move saw Inman get in again but his cross was just ahead of Haber.
There was a slight delay to the start of the second after match referee Lee Collins had to be replaced by one of his assistants.
After just two minutes of the re-start, the Robins pulled one back in what was turning out to a classic encounter. After an initial cross from the Crewe right was over hit to the far post, Robert did fantastically well to hook the ball back across from the touchline and Obika stole in to head past a helpless Garratt. If we had plans of keeping it tight for ten minutes they had disappeared in an instant.
Crewe’s two goal advantage was wiped out within seven minutes of the re-start. Full-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill provided the assist from the Crewe right hand side and his dangerous delivery seemed to divert off centre half Nugent to deflect it beyond Garratt as Ajose flung himself into the mix. It was extraordinary stuff and all of Crewe’s fine work in the first half had disappeared within seven minutes.
With Crewe forced backwards, Turton did well to clear a cross ahead of Ajose and Nugent had to stretch to avoid the quick Obika from being slipped through by Rodgers. Turton joined Nugent and Jones in the book for a pull back after he was beaten by a fine piece of skill.
Crewe were finding it increasingly difficult to offer as much threat in the final third as we had in that first period and Swindon did look the more likely side to score again. Rodgers drilled a shot just wide of the far post and Garratt had to react quickly to smother at Obika’s feet. The Crewe goalkeeper was also called upon to save with his legs from Robert after he had escaped from the clutches of Billy Bingham.
Steve Davis made his first change with just 20 minutes remaining with George Cooper replacing Haber. Cooper went to the tip of the diamond with Colclough asked to partner Inman.
Garratt made a fine save to push away a shot from Barry and then Ajose didn’t get enough power or accuracy on his shot to really test the Crewe goalkeeper when he was presented with time and space to select his spot.
With ten minutes remaining, Swindon introduced the fit-again Nathan Thompson for Barry, who had performed well.
The home side continued to press forward looking to steal the points. With five minutes left on the clock, the lively Obika raced through on goal but Garratt stood firm to make a massive save for the Alex. From the resulting corner, Raphael Rossi-Branco headed over the bar.
With Crewe trying to see the remaining minutes out and possibly nick something on the break, the returning Bakayogo was introduced for Fox as we went to three centre-halves with Guthrie shifting into the middle.
The Alex could have nicked it with a swift counter attack but Colclough fired into the side netting after being found at the far post by Inman.
It would be Swindon nicking all three points though with Ajose showing his goal poaching instinct by being in the right place again to turn in a rebound after Garratt failed to hold a shot from Kasim. Garratt ran across looking for a offside flag but one was not forthcoming and Crewe had nothing to show for their efforts.