Crewe Alexandra held their nerve to win 5-3 on penalty kicks against a spirited Doncaster Rovers side after it ended 1-1 after 90 minutes in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Quarter-Final. Mathias Pogba confidently converted a cross from Max Clayton in first half stoppage time before Chris Brown equalised in stoppage time at the end of the game to take it through to a shoot-out. Crewe had been holding on for the last few minutes after having full-back Matt Tootle sent-off for the first time in his career for two bookable offence.
Crewe were flawless from the spot with all our five takers dispatching theirs with aplomb. The experienced Robbie Blake was the unfortunate one to miss with his powerful drive hitting the crossbar and crashing out. Crewe full-back Gregor Robertson calmly put the Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper Gary Woods the wrong way to put the Railwaymen through.
It was the width of a post that divided the teams in the end and it is Crewe Alexandra progressing into the Northern Area semi-final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
In the wake of our FA Cup defeat to Burton Albion and to freshen things up a little, Steve Davis made four changes to his side. Goalkeeper Steve Phillips, defender Adam Dugdale, loan signing and debutant Brad Inman and Max Clayton given an opportunity to impress.
Inman, on loan from Newcastle, started quietly when finding his feet, but grew in stature in the game and was unlucky not to give us a first half lead with a couple of good efforts that drew good saves from Woods.
In extremely wet conditions, Robertson did superbly well to apply a block on a shot from Blake and he then produced a wonderful delivery from a free-kick that missed out virtually everybody. Any sort of touch form close range and Woods would have been in serious trouble. Moments later with chances few and far between, Chuks Aneke stretched at a shot and he dragged it wide of the mark.
Abdul Osman then tried his luck with an ambitious effort from distance before he had to produce a wonderfully timed tackle inside the Crewe penalty area to deny Blake another chance at goal.
The visitors began to enjoy their purple patch in the game after Robertson was penalised for a foul, not only was he booked for the offence, but then held his breath as Blake wonderfully struck effort thudded the Crewe post. Blake was involved again to feed David Cotterill but he shot straight at the recalled Phillips.
On 35 minutes, Lauri Valla Dalle conjured up our best effort when he drilled over a powerful cross from the by-line and after Woods could only palm it into the air, Aneke stooped to try and head home. He must have though he had scored after applying a contact on it, but Woods somehow go his hand to it to send it onto the bar and it was eventually smuggled behind for a corner.
Inman was growing in confidence and after reading a back pass, he raced onto it and was unfortunate to see his shot saved by the feet of diving Woods. It was a fine save. His follow up effort was deflected over the top.
Crewe were finishing the first half strongly though and after more good approach play involving Dalla Valle, Clayton and the much-involved Robertson, his cut back towards Aneke should have resulted in a shot on goal, but the on-loan Arsenal youngster didn’t connect right and Dalle Valle couldn’t turn it in either.
Dalla Valle then sent Pogba free into space and his instant pass released the supportive Inman who forced the busier Woods into a one-handed save. As the first half entered stoppage time, the Railwaymen finally got the goal their effort deserved. Clayton did superbly well with a powerful run to the by-line and he had the presence of mind to pick out Pogba, who confidently strolled up to side for home his 9th goal of the season.
The second half started with Phillips saving from the target man Brown with his legs. It was a fantastic save from the experienced Crewe goalkeeper.
Doncaster made a couple of early changes with Ian Hume and Evan Finnegan replacing James Hubsand and David Cotterill. Tootle was booked for a sliding tackle and it would come back to haunt him later on.
The visitors pressed looking for an equaliser and after Brown’s golden chance, Sammy Clingan shot from distance and Brown had the ball in the net but it was rightly ruled out for offside. He collided with Phillips and both players needed treatment.
Doncaster made their last substitution with Paul Quinn replacing the former Stoke defender Andy Griffin.
Inman was having more of an effect on the game again and his hard work saw him regain possession and find Clayton. He in turn found Aneke and his deflected shot ran through to Woods. Clayton then shot on the run but it wasn’t troubling Woods.
Aneke soon made way for Ollie Turton and a tiring Clayton for Ryan Colclough. With ten minutes left on the clock, Colclough found Inman and his instant cross to the far post gave Pogba ample opportunity to attack it. He did everything right to power a head and was unlucky to see it hit the Doncaster post.
After Woods punched a Tootle corner out, Inman shot wide, before Byron Moore replaced Inman for the closing minutes. Crewe looked like being comfortable but then Tootle was red carded for a second booking and it gave Doncaster more impetus.
Adam Dugdale did excellently to deny Blake a late chance and then Phillips was called upon again to save again from the same player with his legs. It looked like saving the tie, until deep into stoppage time, Chris Brown literally bundled a cross into an empty net to force penalties. It was a cruel blow for Crewe but the players dusted themselves off to win the shoot-out.
Dalla Valle, Davis, Osman and Moore all gave Woods no chance, likewise Brown, Hume and Quinn for Doncaster Rovers, but Blake’s effort smacked the crossbar with their third penalty and it was left for Robertson to score to win the tie. The Scot sent Woods the wrong way and it’s Crewe in the hat for the Northern Semi-Final.