Crewe win thriller at One Call Stadium after outstanding first half performance.
Crewe: Garratt, Sterry (Ng, 79), Nolan, Ray, Pickering, Green, Wintle, Jones, Kirk (Raynes, 60), Bowery, Miller (McKirdy, 65)
Unused Subs: Richards, Porter, Dagnall, Ainley
Goals: Jones (7), Bowery (10), Pickering (25), Kirk (27)
Attendance: 3,480 (238 Crewe)
David Artell’s Crewe Alexandra side produced a quite stunning first-half performance to record their third win in five games to take a gigantic step towards safety. Mansfield Town, who started the day just outside the play-off places were simply blown away in the opening half an hour at the One Call Stadium as a rampant Crewe scored four times inside 27 minutes.
The Stags certainly regrouped to make a real game of it though in the second half, scoring twice themselves through Kane Hemmings and substitute Ricky Miller. There other sub, Danny Rose, also clipped the crossbar with a fantastic effort. Crewe also had their chances to score a fifth but couldn’t quite find that clinical edge again.
Crewe had raced into a two goal inside the opening 10 minutes thanks to well taken goals from James Jones and Jordan Bowery.
The home side then pulled one back through their towering striker Lee Angol on 16 minutes after he converted his own rebound on 16 minutes.
It was only a brief set-back for the Railwaymen though as Charlie Kirk laid on a pass for Harry Pickering to smash home his second goal at senior level and then the influential Kirk helped himself to his fourth goal in seven games with a tidy finish.
Mansfield Town boss David Flitcroft made a double change at half time with Danny Rose and Ricky Miller coming on and it paid off almost immediately with Kane Hemmings making it 4-2 on 50 minutes.
The chances continued to arrive almost at will with Bowery, Pickering and substitute Harry McKirdy all missing good opportunities to put the game to bed.
With 14 minutes left on the clock, a deflected shot from Hamilton ran through to the substitute Miller and he tucked it past Garratt to stage a grandstand finish.
Following his last gasp equaliser against Port Vale on Easter Monday, youngster Charlie Kirk was rewarded with a start at The One Call Stadium. Kirk returned to the starting line-up ahead of the rested Callum Ainley.
Defender Perry Ng was deemed fit enough to return to the matchday squad but Jamie Sterry retained his place. Chris Porter and Chris Dagnall were once again named on a strong looking Crewe substitutes’ bench.
Mansfield Town also made one change to the side that lost to Luton with Alfie Potter returning in midfield for Will Atkinson.
Before the game commenced there was a minute’s applause in memory of the former England International Ray Wikins, who sadly passed away this week following a heart attack.
The game got off to a frantic start with the towering Lee Angol attempting to make a nuisance of himself inside the Crewe penalty area, but Paul Green was well placed to cut out a low cross from CJ Hamilton.
Crewe took an early lead after just 7 minutes when Miller cleverly flicked possession into the path of the breaking James Jones. The Crewe midfielder was presented with a one v one situation with Zander Diamond and he kept his composure superbly well to drop his shoulder and fire past a helpless Conrad Logan. It was Jones’ first goal of the season and a welcome sight after the season he has endured because of injury. He took it wonderfully well.
Three minutes later, Crewe doubled their lead with some great football. After snuffing out the danger from Kane Hemmings at one end, the Railwaymen broke quickly and packed the Mansfield box with bodies. Paul Green did superbly well to cut the ball back from the byline and Jones was denied a second goal of the afternoon by Logan, who made a point blank range save, but there was Bowery at the far post to coolly slot home the rebound.
It was Bowery’s 12th goal of the season to take him to joint top scorer with Chris Porter. It was a fantastic start from the Railwaymen against a club with play-off hopes.
Mansfield tried to discover a passage back into the game but Crewe stood firm from a succession of corners, but the spirited Stags hit back on 16 minutes. Angol initially saw his flick header saved by a diving Garratt but the ball was kept in play and the Mansfield number 9 tucked home the rebound with relative ease.
In a really open and free flowing game that was reminiscent of a basketball game, Bowery then saw a good effort saved by the legs of Logan and Jacob Mellis shot well wide from the edge of the Crewe box.
The openings continued and after good work by Jones and Kirk, it was Jones slipping Bowery in behind the back-line and his low shot across goal was blocked by Conrad and eventually cleared. It needed a minute or so to gather your breath because both sides looked more than capable of scoring more goals. Mellis was closer with his second effort, a curler that was straight at Garratt.
Amazingly, Crewe’s third goal of the afternoon arrived after just 25 minutes and it was a stunning strike from the overlapping Harry Pickering. Kirk carried the ball into the Stags box virtually unopposed and he produced a perfectly weighted pass for Pickering to smash home into the far corner. It was a great little move and stunning finish from the left-back. Once again Logan had absolutely no chance with it.
Two minutes later, it was 4-1. Mansfield who were all over the place at the back, failed to clear their lines again and Bowery did well to shield possession and lay it off for the grateful Kirk, who took his 5th goal of the season with a well-executed lift into the net. The winger now has an impressive four goals in seven games.
It was no surprise that David Flitcroft made an early change with his captain Diamond, who had endured a torrid time, being replaced at centre-half by Krystian Pearce. Soon after the change Mellis, with another sight at the Crewe goal, shot inches wide of the target.
With Crewe threatening to break away again through the tenacious Green, Potter was booked for blatantly pulling back the midfielder. Kirk was eventually crowded out down the touchline. Alex MacDonald then saw a low cross blocked by the well positioned George Ray.
Bowery was booked before the interval after bustling into the back of MacDonald as he threatened to make his way into the Crewe half of the field.
With the minutes ticking away to the break, Ray and Nolan were excellent at clearing some high balls entering our box and Crewe continued to keep the ball really well. It was a terrific first half from the Railwaymen and needless to say, the home supporters made their feelings known as the two teams made their way to the tunnel.
Flitcroft gambled by making a double substitution at the back with Danny Rose and Ricky Miller replacing Angol and Potter.
It was Artell’s Alex creating the first half chance of the second half though with Sterry clipping a tempting pass into Miller but instead of going with his head and perhaps lobbing an advanced Logan, he tried to take an awkward ball down and it touched through to a grateful Mansfield goalkeeper.
Mansfield were presented with an early passage back into the game just five minutes into the second half. Crewe initially defended a free-kick from our right hand side but after Miller had cleared for a throw-in, a deflected cross from Hayden White was headed in at the far post by Kane Hemmings. Crewe now only had a two goal advantage and the early strike gave the home crowd a lift.
Crewe were not panicking and continued to play our passing game. A really promising passage of play saw Sterry feed Green and in turn Bowery. The striker did well to protect possession and lay off for the supportive Wintle, who flashed his shot just wide of the left hand post.
At the other end, Rose’s first sniff of our goal saw him head over at the far post. Sterry had done enough to put him off at the crucial moment. Rose’s next header really should have been on target. He stole in in the centre of the goal but his firm header cleared Garratt’s crossbar. White was having growing influence on the game and he soon flashed another cross/shot wide of the far post. Ray also did superbly well to prevent a low cross from Miller reaching Rose.
Crewe so nearly scored a fifth goal on the hour mark. Miller found the chest of Miller with an accurately drilled pass and his lay off found the onrushing Pickering. The left back beat the onrushing Logan to poke it towards the unguarded net but Pearce did brilliantly to clear it from the line and out for a corner.
Artell made a swift change to make us more robust at the back with Michael Raynes replacing the excellent Kirk. It was purely a tactical change to allow us to play Sterry and Pickering as wing-backs.
The lively Miller broke on to a pass from Pickering down the left hand channel and he intelligently picked out Jones but he was closed down and his shot lacked the power to draw a save from Logan. That was Miller’s last contribution of the game as he was soon replaced by Harry McKirdy.
The on-loan Aston Villa starlet could have scored with one of his first touches after a superb counter-attack on 70 minutes. Bowery, who led the line fantastically well all afternoon, broke away down the right hand side and he slipped it into Wintle, who passed it on to Jones. His instant flick found McKirdy and after taking a touch his shot was saved by Logan and Bowery wasted the loose ball by lashing it over. It should have been a killer fifth goal from the Alex after creating a 4-on-3 situation.
We were nearly made to pay dearly for the miss because just moments later, Rose produced a fantastic dipping shot that hit the Crewe crossbar. An inch lower and it would have been 4-3.
It soon was though. With 14 minutes remaining a deflected shot from CJ Hamilton broke through to substitute Ricky Miller and he kept his composure to slot it past Garratt from close range.
That prompted the final change of the afternoon with Ng coming on for Sterry. There were still wide open space all the over the pitch and White did well to cover and produce a timely tackle on the hard working McKirdy.
Ben Garratt was cautioned for time wasting as he took his time over a goal kick. Crewe were having to survive a late onslaught from the home side and after pulling a good ball down, Hemmings rushed a late chance and he tamely shot at Garratt. Crewe protected their box well in the closing minutes to see out a fantastic three points.
Ng and Green were booked for time wasting and Bowery did brilliantly in the dying seconds to take the ball into the corner and protect our lead. He won a free-kick close to the corner flag and the whistle soon sounded.