Sheff Utd: Long, Brayford, Hussey, O’Connell, Basham, Fleck, Sharp (McNulty), Done (Scougall), Wilson, Duffy, Clarke (Calvert-Lewin)
Crewe: Garratt, Turton, Bakayogo, Ray, Nugent, Jones, Bingham (Ng), Kirk (Kiwoyma), Cooper, Saunders (Lowe), Dagnall
Att: 8,305 (198 from Crewe)
A really spirited performance from Crewe Alexandra saw us reach the second round of the EFL Cup after coming from behind to win 2-1 at Bramall Lane.
The Blades had taken an early lead through Leon Clarke and although we had to ride our luck at times, in terms of chances for the home side, the Railwaymen showed tremendous character to remain in the contest and force extra-time. Our own experienced striker Ryan Lowe arrived from the substitutes’ bench as a replacement for the injured Callum Saunders to flip the cup-tie into our favour. The former Sheffield Wednesday man popped up with a last minute equaliser from a corner to cancel out Clarke’s opener and force 30 minutes of extra-time.
In the 100th minute, Lowe was in the right place at the right time again to turn home a fabulously won header by Ben Nugent after James Jones had accurately picked him out at a free-kick.
Crewe had to survive two scares in extra-time with John Fleck and Mark Duffy both hitting the crossbar with outstanding efforts from distance.
As expected, Steve Davis made three changes to the side that won on the opening day of the season at Stevenage. Centre-halves Ben Nugent and George Ray replaced Harry Davis and Jon Guthrie and striker Callum Saunders came in for Ryan Lowe as Davis freshened up his starting XI for the trip to Bramall Lane. With Lowe and Davis rested and on the substitutes’ bench, Zoumana Bakayogo accepted the captain’s armband for the first time.
In charge of his first home game as manager of Sheffield United, Chris Wilder named a strong and unchanged side for the first round of the EFL Cup with our former defender John Brayford named at right-back.
Goalkeeper Ben Garratt was called into action as early as the second minute when he bravely slid out to take the ball from Leon Clarke. He quickly gathered himself to then punch away a cross under pressure.
On five minutes, an under hit back pass from Ollie Turton sent Clarke clear through on the Crewe goal. Garratt decided to retreat back towards his goal and it proved the right decision as he managed to narrow the angle and turn his lofted shot behind for a corner.
From the resultant corner, it was worked short to Mark Duffy and his accurate cross into a crowded penalty area and after it dropped, the experienced Clarke swiftly swung and dispatched it past Garratt for the opening goal of the night.
The willing runner Saunders nearly latched onto a lifted pass from Jones but George Long read the situation to race from his goal to clear the ball into touch.
On 15 minutes, it was Duffy again the provider, slipping Leon Clarke in behind the Crewe back line but his low drive whistled past the far post.
The busy Garratt was then forced into making a point blank save to deny John Fleck at the far post after the midfielder had reached a low cross from Chris Hussey. In the early exchanges, the Crewe goalkeeper was keeping us in the contest.
A bright moment from George Cooper saw him drift past a couple of defenders and his eventual shot was just wide of Long’s right hand post. That seemed to spur more confidence into Cooper and the winger showed great ability to wriggle past a challenge close to the Sheffield United by-line and his drilled cross just needed a decisive touch inside a crowded six-yard box. It was encouraging from Crewe with Cooper looking our best bet for some inspiration in the final third.
Just after the half an hour mark, the inspired Garratt again denied Clarke by throwing himself at the striker’s feet as he threatened to tuck home a cross from Billy Sharp after we had been exposed in a 2v2 situation.
Moments later, Crewe’s best outfield player, Cooper, flashed another good effort just over the crossbar. The winger also headed a cross from Turton onto the top of the netting but in fairness Long had it covered. Another good move from the Railwaymen saw Bakayogo make ground down the Sheffield United right hand side and his low cross towards Saunders was just cut out by Chris Basham.
As the first half entered the final minute, Clarke had yet another chance to add to his opening goal after the Crewe defenders failed to clear with any real conviction. The ball was poked through to Clarke to place him in another one v one situation with Garratt but this time, the former Wolves and Coventry man toe-poked his effort wide of the target.
There was still time for Crewe to create arguably our best chance of the night. The impressive Cooper whipped over a free-kick from the right hand side and after a slight scramble, Ray saw his close range effort grasped on the line by the diving Long.
Crewe made a change at the break with Perry Ng replacing Billy Bingham. Ng played at right-back with utility man Turton moving into the centre of midfield. The first genuine chance of the second period saw the cunning Brayford steal in behind Kirk and his low cross into the six-yard box had to be steered clear by an alert Ray.
On 56 minutes, Crewe rode their luck again after a clipped cross from the impressive Duffy reached Sharp at the far post but he could only drill his shot wide of Garratt’s far post. Nugent also produced a last ditch header to flick it away from Clarke’s head.
Just before the hour mark, Steve Davis made his second change with Kiwoyma replacing Kirk. Five minutes later, Kiwoyma quickly found Cooper and after he threatened to burst into the box, he was tripped on the edge of the box by O’Connell. The Sheffield United defender was cautioned but Cooper could only smash the free-kick into the wall.
On 68 minutes, Saunders was withdrawn after suffering a knock in a collision with Long. He was replaced by the former Sheffield Wednesday forward Lowe. The home side also made a change with Marc McNulty replacing captain Sharp.
Crewe were very much in the cup-tie and just needed to find that quality final ball to really apply some pressure on the Sheffield United back line.
From a Cooper corner from the right hand side, Nugent did find some space to attack his header but unfortunately he couldn’t quite direct it on target to test Long.
After Clarke had seen a second goal chalked off for offside, a fine passing move from the home side unlocked the Crewe defence and Ray had to throw himself in front of a shot from substitute Scougall, who had only just replaced Matty Done.
As the game entered it's final stages, Crewe were hanging on in there with some last ditch interceptions by Nugent and Ray. At the other end, we were hoping for a genuine chance to fall for either of our goal poachers Lowe and Dagnall. One did fall to Lowe on his left foot and he forced Long into a smart save.
The Sheffield United sub Calvert-Lewin should have ended our hopes with three minutes remaining after he was played in by McNulty, but he made a real mess of it in front of Garratt, steering his shot wastefully past the post with the goal at his mercy. It would come back to haunt him as from a corner, Crewe would snatch a deserved equaliser.
The deep cross was aimed for Nugent and Ray at the far end of the box and the ball dropped invitingly for the veteran Lowe, who made absolutely no mistake with a powerful drive past Long for his second goal of the season. Crewe saw out the remaining few minutes to force extra-time.
Crewe forced an early corner in extra-time after another promising run from Cooper. He saw his shot blocked as he raced into the Sheffield United box. A half chance then fell to Duffy but he scuffed his shot from 20 yards gratefully into the gloves of Garratt.
Crewe were defending our goal resolutely, with Nugent and Ray intercepting numerous deliveries into our box and Kiwoyma showed his work ethic for the team by racing back to produce a perfectly timed tackle to prevent a cross from Brayford from reaching its intended target.
In the tenth minute of extra time, James Jones’ deep free-kick into the Sheffield United penalty area was headed down superbly by Nugent and there again was the goal poacher supreme Lowe to turn it home. Lowe had a quick glance at the assistant referee to check he was onside and his flag stayed down. Crewe were ahead at Bramall Lane.
In search of a dramatic hat-trick, Lowe then combined with Dagnall to lash one just over the crossbar. It was close.
Calvin-Lewin tried to make amends for his earlier miss in the 90 minutes, as he took on an unsurprisingly tiring Ray on, but he couldn’t keep his shot down enough to test Garratt.
With both sides making all their chances in the 90 minutes, the short interval saw some much needed quick massaging of limbs from the support staff.
Fleck soon rocked the Crewe crossbar with an outstanding drive from 25 yards and with Garratt beaten, Nugent did superbly again to beat Calvin-Lewin to the rebound. He headed it clear and won a free-kick in the process. It was going to be a containment job for the Alex to see the tie through, as the Blades threw what they had left in the tank at us.
With six minutes left on clock, Sheffield United were again denied by the woodwork. This time it was Duffy with a wonderful shot from distance but he could only watch in horror as it struck the underside of the Crewe crossbar and bounce away to safety.
Everyone stuck to their task, with Dagnall covering a tiring Cooper on the right and helping young NG see out the remaining few minutes. When we had possession, we intelligently kept it and ran the clock down to come through a really tricky cup-tie to make sure we are in the hat for tomorrow’s draw.