Crewe Alexandra showed tremendous character to fight back from conceding two early goals at Spotland to extend their unbeaten run to six games.
Crewe made another slow start to the proceedings to find themselves 2-0 behind within the first six minutes after Rhys Bennett with a far post header and a tap in from Joe Bunney had put the home side firmly in control.
Steve Davis’ side though regained their composure and hit back superbly well to draw level inside the first half an hour of a topsy-turvy game. Marcus Haber tucked home from close range from a knockdown from Ben Nugent on 24 minutes before Ryan Seager drew us level just three minutes later when he stroked home a Brad Inman cut back to mark his first senior goal.
Sadly, Crewe lost Seager through injury before the half time interval. The on-loan Southampton starlet was stretched off after appearing to twist his ankle badly in the turf. He was replaced by Callum Saunders.
As expected for the re-arranged fixture at Rochdale’s Spotland ground, Crewe Alexandra were forced into one change from the side that obtained a point against promotion chasing Walsall on Saturday. With George Cooper struggling with an injury to his quad, there was a recall for Zoumana Bakayogo for his second start for the club on the left hand side of midfield. The gap on the substitutes’ bench went to youngster Charlie Kirk.
After warning his side about the dangers of making a slow start to games, the Alex players did not heed that warning and we found ourselves behind in only the second minute of play. Bakayogo conceded an early free kick down the left hand side and a lack of concentration allowed Michael Rose to feed Nathaniel Mendez-Laing in a wide position and with Bakayogo unable to apply enough pressure on the cross, it was headed home superbly well by Rhys Bennett at the far post. Bennett’s header was perfectly placed beyond Garratt’s reach.
It became doubly worse for Crewe just four minutes later. After playing a swift give and go, Ian Henderson reached the by-line and his low cross was gratefully tucked home from close range by Joe Bunney. Crewe’s slow start had given us one almighty mountain to climb and Steve Davis was understandably livid about the start his side had made but to their enormous credit, the Alex settled down and began to pass the ball around with some purpose.
Crewe tried to respond almost immediately with James Jones hitting a searching pass through to the runner Ryan Seager. The movement of the on-loan Southampton youngster saw him go one-on-one with the onrushing Josh Lillis and as it bounced on the edge of the area, it did appear that Josh Lillis had indeed touched it with his arm. It was certainly close, as was an offside decision that halted another clever run in behind from Seager. The assistant’s flag was a long time going up.
In the early exchanges, we actually looked a threat going forward but we were not defending as well as we have been of late and another deep cross aimed for the far post was headed onto the roof of the netting by Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
On the quarter-of-an-hour mark, the lively Seager had a decent chance to halve the deficit after some fine wing play from Inman. He laid off a perfectly weighted pass into Seager’s path inside the box but his side footed shot was saved by Lillis.
Jones then hit an accurate cross that the advanced Bakayogo headed into the gloves of Lillis. It was much better from the Alex and the next goal was always going to be vital.
On 24 minutes, the Railwaymen did get that important goal. Ben Nugent provided the assist with an excellent header from an Ajayi cross and Haber nipped in to tuck home from close range to bring us back into the contest.
Three minutes later, the spirited Alex were level after another decisive attack. Inman did magnificently well to drive into the Rochdale penalty area and his cut back was tucked away with aplomb by Seager, for his first senior goal. The Alex had reacted superbly to going 2-0 down so early in the game and had thoroughly deserved to be level again. It really was a crazy game!
Another promising cross from Turton saw the flying Bakayogo reach it with his head but he couldn’t generate the direction to coincide with the power.
In a really open game though, it was now the home side’s turn to try and go back into the lead but Mendez-Laing’s shot dipped just over Garratt’s left home corner of his crossbar.
Crewe were dealt a really bad blow just after the half an hour mark when Seager went down with what looked a really serious knee injury. He was clearly hurt after twisting in the turf and instantly thumped the ground in agony and his team-mates quickly signalled for assistance. After the necessary delay, Seager was stretched off and was replaced by Callum Saunders.
Almost immediately, Jones hit a superb free-kick that only needed a brush off the head of Ben Nugent but it just carried through to the gloves of the Lillis. Any contact would have given the Rochdale a real problem underneath his crossbar.
Crewe were nearly caught out on the counter-attack by Bunney after he beat Jones to a loose ball from just inside our half. His touch took him past the covering midfielder to race through on Garratt’s goal but the pace of Ayayi saw him recover the situation superbly. He caught up with the Rochdale striker and made an excellent block to deflect it behind for a corner. Moments later, the threat of Mendez-Laing saw his shoot inches wide at the far post, with the home side half expecting his low drive to bulge the net.
Due to the number of goals in the first half and the lengthy stoppage because of Seager’s injury, the referee awarded six minutes of stoppage time. After such a high tempo to the game it was no surprise that nothing of any real note occurred in either penalty area, although there was a reckless challenge on Guthrie by Rose which saw him booked. Bakayogo, who has only just returned from two years of an injury nightmare certainly appreciate the ‘tackle’ and he clashed with our former Academy graduate Matty Lund. Both players were booked for handbags at fifty paces.
Crewe made a much brighter start to the second half than the first half with Haber quickly heading a cross from Bakayogo just over the crossbar. The big Canadian held his head in his hands to indicate that he knows he should have at least hit the target.
The game continued to be a highly competitive affair with both sets of players putting in some heart-felt challenges. It was two teams really going for it in the Rochdale rain.
Garratt had to claw away a really testing cross aimed at that far post again and he needed James Jones on hand to complete the clearance instead the six yard box.
At the other end, Crewe perhaps had a shout for a penalty when Jimmy McNulty seemed to impede Turton close to the by-line after he had gotten past him. The Crewe full-back didn’t make a meal of it and the referee’s assistant only awarded a goal kick.
Keith Hill made his first change of the night with Reuben Noble-Lazarus replacing Mendez-Laing. The second change came just after the hour mark with David Syers replacing one of Rochdale’s scorers on the night Bennett.
The home side began to really load our box and following a bit of a melee in front of Garratt, Guthrie was on hand to launch the clearance into touch.
On 73 minutes, Turton did fantastically well to deny Lund a simple tap in at the far post. The full-back defended well to get back and reach Henderson’s low cross ahead of the Rochdale midfielder.
With the clock ticking away, Hill introduced his final sub with the towering Peter Vincenti replacing Bunney. With Vincenti making an appearance, Guthrie swapped sides to deal with the extra height.
In the last few minutes, there was a late first team debut for for Kirk, as he replaced Saunders but no other genuine chances arrived.