Crewe Alexandra suffered their second narrow defeat of the Easter period, as Phil Parkinson's Bradford City carved out a 1-0 victory at the Alexandra Stadium.
The only goal of the game came five minutes after the re-start as Jamie Proctor raced through to fire past goalkeeper Ben Garratt after George Ray had appeared to have lost the flight at the ball in the emerging sun.
Crewe had been the better side in the first half but didn’t create enough genuine chance to test our former goalkeeper Ben Williams in the City goal. Our best chance fell to the returning Lauri Dalla Valle after a defensive slip from Christopher Routis but he shot wide on the turn.
Boss Steve Davis made four changes to the side that narrowly lost 3-2 to Sheffield United on Good Friday.
Midfielder Callum Ainley made his full debut after a succession of impressive performances for the Under-21s. There was also a recall for Billy Bingham, who made a good impression when coming off the bench against the Blades on Friday.
Centre-half George Ray returned to the heart of the defence to partner Jon Guthrie with captain Harry Davis and Ben Nugent named on the substitutes’ bench. The club’s Finnish striker Lauri Dalla Valle was named in the squad after overcoming his ankle ligament injury for his first start since October.
James Jones and Tom Hitchcock were also on the bench, as was new signing Daniel Udoh for the first time since signing from Ilkeston.
The former Crewe Alexandra loanee Greg Leigh was named in the Bradford City 18-man squad and goalkeeper Ben Williams started for the Bantams.
Crewe Alexandra continued on from Friday’s impressive second half at Bramall Lane with some really confident football in the opening half an hour. Crewe lined-up in a 4-3-3 system again and took the game to the visitors with some neat passing and movement.
18-year-old Callum Ainley certainly wasn’t fazed on his full debut and he was soon in possession, running at the Bradford back-line. His pass was accurate out to Brad Inman and he instantly fed another of Crewe’s young prospects Charlie Kirk. Kirk took it in his stride but was foiled by the Bradford City goalkeeper Ben Williams, who smothered his shot behind for a corner.
Ainley was excellent, showing great maturity in possession and rolling away from his close marker Billy Knott. It got so bad for the former Port Vale loanee that he was switched for the job of trying to nullify Ainley by Tom Thorpe as the half wore on.
Crewe’s best chance of the half arrived in the 18th minute after Christopher Routis had allowed a through ball from Inman to slip under his boot. Dalla Valle was alert to the opportunity and quickly spun round to get a shot off but he pulled it just wide of Williams’ left hand post.
Ollie Turton hit a deep cross towards Ray and after he won his header, no-one gambled enough to try and rush onto the clever knock down.
Crewe were certainly on top in possession but just failed to find that telling final pass. That was the only thing was lacking from a very good footballing display.
Bradford forced a couple of corners but Ray was usually dominate in the air up against Jamie Proctor. His strike partner Billy Clarke flicked a header just over.
As the first half continued, the Bantams did create two of the better chances. First their captain Stephen Darby was played in behind the Crewe back line but he shot a yard wide of the target.
Although Crewe had been the better side in the first half, Proctor had a golden chance to put the visitors ahead just before the interval but he couldn’t keep his far post header down.
Bradford City finally took the lead five minutes into the second period following a free-kick in the centre of midfield. Nathan Clarke took the free-kick to plant it towards the box and defender George Ray seemed to lose the flight of the ball in the sun thus allowing Proctor the chance to race in behind. The former Fleetwood man kept his composure to fire past Ben Garratt.
Crewe almost responded immediately after another promising build up. Inman found Bingham down the left hand side and his low cross only needed a proper connection from Kirk as he raced onto it. If the youngster had connected properly then it would have given Williams no chance.
Tony McMahon was booked for a foul on Bakayogo and Ray was booked for Crewe for a foul on Proctor.
To freshen things up, the newly signed Daniel Udoh replaced Dalla Valle and the former Ilkeston man so nearly scored with his very first touch in the professional game. Udoh produced a stunning overhead kick that bounced just a yard wide.
Bradford made a double substitution with James Hanson and Steve Davies replacing Clarke and Proctor.
Crewe continued to press looking for an equaliser but just lacked that real cutting edge. Inman fired over the top of the crossbar from distance before Garratt saved smartly from Davies after he had broken the offside trap.
Ainley nearly found Inman with a splendid pass but Williams judged it well to snatch it on the edge of the area. The sponsors Man-of-the-Match Ainley left the pitch to warm applause to be replaced by Cooper.
Crewe’s last real chance to grab a point saw Inman produce a terrific delivery and it only needed a touch as it flashed across the six yard box.