Crewe Alexandra extended their unbeaten run to five games with a spirited second half comeback against promotion chasing Walsall.
Brad Inman headed home from a well worked free-kick just three minutes into the second half when the sponsors Man of the Match Semi Ajayi won a header at the far post from David Fox’s delivery to cancel out Tom Bradshaw’s penalty after George Cooper had handled.
Both sides had chances to win all the points with Ben Garratt in exceptional form, making two fine saves to deny Bradshaw in both halves.
Marcus Haber had a late chance to win it for Crewe Alexandra but the hard working striker couldn’t keep his header down in the centre of the goal.
Steve Davis was given the luxury of naming the same starting XI that defeated Rochdale 2-0 last weekend.
The in-form Brad Inman shook off a knock to start. The on-loan Southampton striker Ryan Seager started the second game of his agreement and he partnered Marcus Haber in attack.
The former Crewe Alexandra loanee goalkeeper Neil Etheridge returned from a knee injury to regain his place in the Walsall goal and another Crewe loanee Andrew Taylor started at left-back for the Saddlers.
Walsall arrived in South Cheshire occupying one the automatic promotion places and Sean O’Driscoll’s side started strongly at the Alexandra Stadium. The confident Saddlers tested the Crewe goalkeeper Ben Garratt early on with both Bradshaw and Sawyers having shots saved.
Defender Matt Preston also forced the Crewe goalkeeper into a smart save down to his left after he applied a touch to Milan Lalkovic cross.
That early pressure from the visitors so nearly resulted in the opening goal on 15 minutes. The lively Lalkovic did well again to provide a low cross from the Crewe right hand side and the goal poacher Bradshaw reacted quickly to get a shot off first ahead of our centre-halves but his side-footed effort was touched on to the underside of the bar by Garratt. It was a fantastic save from the Crewe number one.
Crewe had to weather that early pressure from Walsall but managed to conjured up some half chances of our own. After a really patient build up, left back Jon Guthrie provided a cross into the six yard box and Seager’s clever flick on nearly found Haber at the far post. The Canadian International just couldn’t get enough of a touch to test our former stopper Etheridge.
Moments later, the hard working Seager latched onto a long ball to beat the onrushing Etheridge to the ball. Why the Walsall goalkeeper had rushed so far out of his goal to confront Seager close to the touchline was a strange decision, but Seager’s deft touch took him beyond Etheridge but before he quite get his bearings, the covering Preston did well again to apply a necessary block challenge on him.
A rush of blood from George Cooper saw the youngster handle inside the box on the half an hour mark.
Cooper had attempted to clear after retreating to help out Ollie Turton but the ball bounced between them and under pressure from Bradshaw he appeared to handle it, although there is an argument that it wasn’t intentional. He certainly handled it though and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.
Bradshaw stepped up to smash home the spot-kick, although Garratt did get a pretty firm hand on it but couldn’t push it over the bar.
Crewe tried to respond quickly from going a goal down but captain Fox couldn’t keep his shot down from the edge of the box.
Although we had slipped behind, Crewe certainly stuck at the task and Etheridge was forced into making a smart save from Seager after Gurthrie and Inman had combined down the left hand side.
Crewe could have gone in at the interval 2-0 down but Milan Lalkovic dragged his shot just inches wide of the mark and Sawyers shot a yard wide as we entered stoppage time.
It was a tale of two halves though because Crewe came out of the blocks with a real purpose and drew level within three minutes of the re-start. Haber won a free-kick 30 yards from goal and Fox curled into a crowded penalty area for Ajayi to attack. He won his header at the far post and Inman was well placed to head beyond Etheridge for his sixth goal in six games.
Walsall continued to be a threat on the counter-attack with Lalkovic curling one wide of the target an then shooting straight at the Crewe number one. James Jones also made a fine block from a shot from Anthony Forde.
Just before the hour mark, Cooper made way for Zoumana Bakayogo. Steve Davis also aimed to freshen things up with Callum Saunders coming on for the hard working Seager.
Garratt was then called upon to make two outstanding saves. Firstly he pushed an effort from Forde away from the top corner before producing a save to rival his save onto the crossbar in the first half.
Sawyers found Bradshaw in space and before Nugent could get across to him to apply a block, the in-form striker got his shot off. His effort from 20 yards looked destined to go in across Garratt but somehow the Crewe number one moved his feet in time to get a really strong hand onto it and turn it behind. It was a truly outstanding save.
Walsall’s best chance to win all three points but defender Paul Downing wasted a golden opportunity after a corner from Forde had found him unmarked at the far post.
Crewe continued to press looking for a winner of their own. Inman so nearly played in Saunders but again the impressive Preston made another timely interception. Haber had the best chance towards the end but he couldn’t quite get over his header to keep it down and really ask a question of Etheridge.
Walsall made two changes late one with Rico Henry and Kieron Morris making an appearance in the 87th minute. Henry had a late chance but could only send his far post volley sailing over the bar.