Crewe Alexandra stopped a recent run of defeats with a hard fought draw against promotion chasing Wigan Athletic at the Alexandra Stadium.
Brad Inman scored his third goal in two games after finishing off of wonderful move from the Railwaymen that saw us break from our own penalty area to equalise just minutes before the break. Just over a minute later, Ray Colclough rocked the Wigan crossbar with a superb effort that looked to have Jussi Jaaskelainen well beaten.
In a fairly even game, Wigan had taken the lead after 15 minutes when a long range shot from full-back Reece Wabara defeated Ben Garratt from 25 yards out.
Wigan’s left winger Yanic Wildschut hit the Crewe post just minutes into the second half and he also wasted their best chance of claiming all three points when he headed onto the top of the netting when it looked easier to score from a corner.
Steve Davis made one change from the side that lost 4-3 at Swindon Town last season with youngster George Cooper reclaiming his place for his first start since facing Wigan Athletic in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy back in October. Midfielder Billy Bingham was the unfortunate one to miss out as Davis made a system change with Cooper, Ryan Colclough and Brad Inman operating behind Marcus Haber in a 4-2-3-1 line-up.
Following his recall to the starting line-up Cooper tried his luck with a shot on target within the first 10 seconds of play but Wigan Athletic’s vastly experienced goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen was equal to it.
Wigan’s first effort saw the on-loan Jordy Hiwula wriggle free inside the penalty area to get a shot off but Ben Nugent did exceeding well to get a leg across the ball to block in front of Garratt.
The visitors also looked threatening moments later but the impressive Yanic Wildshut couldn’t quite find Michael Jacobs with his crossfield pass.
On 15 minutes, Colclough really burst into life though with a really forceful run, that left Jacobs in his wake and after making his way into the box, he forced a good save from Jasskelainen at his near post.
A minute later, Wigan took the lead with their new signing Reece Wabara hit a 25 yard shot past Ben Garratt. The shot was powerfully struck but the Alex number one would have been disappointed not to have got a stronger hand on his effort as it flew in.
There really had not been that much between the two sides and Crewe were a bit unfortunate to be behind. Both sides were enjoying good periods of possession and looking for that little bit more quality in the final third of the pitch.
Garratt was well placed to collect a well struck free-kick from Chris McCann before the Crewe Alexandra stopper had to produce a smart save to deny the danger man Wildschut.
Crewe’s best chance of getting back into the game through Colclough, with his clipped pass forward just failing to reach Haber. Cooper also went on a really positive run that saw him glide a couple of challenges but he couldn’t quite control his final shot.
Wigan lost Michael Jacobs through injury and he had to be replaced by Haris Vuckic.
The Alex finished the first half strongly and deservedly went in at the break on level terms. The counter attacking goal of the highest order came about after Garratt claimed a corner in his gloves. The goalkeeper rolled the ball out to Cooper, who immediately found Colclough. His eagerness to get into the Wigan half of the pitch saw him carry it forward before his perfectly timed pass released Inman into space. He raced onto the pass, chested it down and then unleashed a shot high into Jaaskelainen’s net for his sixth goal of the campaign.
It could have been even better for the Alex just a minute later. Haber won an initial header to find Inman and his lay off into Colclough allowed the confident forward to get the ball out of his feet and hit a shot that travelled to smack the Wigan woodwork. It was an wonderful effort that arguably deserved better.
The second half started with Wigan trying to stamp their authority with Perkins booked for a foul on Colclough and Chris McCann likewise for a reckless challenge on Cooper.
The Latics struck the post early on with Wildschut hitting across Garratt but thankfully it hit the woodwork and bounced out rather than in. Soon after that let off moment, defender Semi Ajayi made a timely block on a shot from midfielder Max Power.
Garratt was called upon to deny the quick Wildschut not once but twice after we were hit on the counter attack. The left winger was prepared to take on Ollie Turton and after escaping his clutches, he fired a shot against the legs of the Crewe goalkeeper. The ball looped into the air and Wildschut tried to head it over Garratt but he had recovered well to jump and catch the rebound effort too. It was a fine double save.
At the other end, Captain David Fox slipped in Inman with a superbly weighted pass but his low cross was cut out inside the six yard box.
Colclough also clipped a free-kick off the top of the Wigan wall after Inman had been tripped on the edge of the penalty area. From the resultant corner, Nugent had a decent half chance but didn’t quite connect with his shot.
Cooper was strangely booked for kicking the ball away after it appeared that he thought the ball was still in play and he was literally clearing up the pitch instead of conceding a corner! He also tried to poke a shot through a pair of legs but Jaaskelainen was equal to it down at his far post.
As the half continued, Wigan did begin to apply some concerted pressure and introduced Will Grigg and Craig Davies as substitutes for Vuckic and Hiwula. The visitors forced a succession of corners and they always looked a threat from them. Their best chance certainly fell to Wildschut but somehow he headed onto the top of the net from close to the goal line. It looked easier to score and he knew he should have scored.
Colclough was a constant threat with his willingness to take players on and Power was booked for another crude challenge on him.
In the final stages of the contest, Wabara fired over a cross that bounced a yard wide of the far post and Davies went down looking for a penalty, as did Colclough did likewise at the other end. Both would have been soft if they been awarded.
Crewe were holding on a little in the closing stages but we restricted their efforts to long range with Davies and Power both shooting straight at the Alex goalkeeper. It would have been harsh on Crewe to have conceded late on again and our best chance to win nearly saw Haber guide home a cross from Guthrie with a clever run across the box - but he couldn’t quite get a telling touch on it to take it into the far corner.
A point apiece was fair and Crewe had a reward to show for their tremendous effort.