Crewe: Garratt, Sterry, Nolan, Raynes, Walker (Kirk, 73), Pickering (McKirdy, 62), Green, Lowery (Barlaser, 53), Ainley, Miller, Bowery
Unused Subs: Jaaskelainen, Finney, Ray, Reilly
Goals: Miller (8)
Attendance: 17,254 (1,450 Crewe)
Crewe Alexandra suffered their fourth successive defeat at promotion hunting Notts County this afternoon. Kevin Nolan’s side eventually ran out 4-1 winners at a packed Meadow Lane with midfielder Elliott Hewitt, the decisive match winner with two goals. Noor Husin had cancelled out Shaun Miller’s opening goal on eight minutes with a superb strike on 15 minutes. Notts County substitute Mason Bennett rounded off the scoring with a tap in in the final minute.
Hewitt forced home a second goal heading into the interval and he struck again just before the hour mark after some swift passing that took them into the Crewe penalty area to take them away from us in the encounter.
Crewe kept going in search of a goal that could have got us back into the contest with Callum Ainley having a far post header deflected behind for a corner and Jordan Bowery seeing his header tipped away by Adam Collin.
David Artell made five changes to the side that lost 4-3 in the dying minutes at Swindon Town last weekend. The Crewe Alexandra boss recalled Ben Garratt after David Richards suffered a calf strain at the County Ground. Midfielder Ryan Wintle was also ruled out after rolling his ankle in training this week. He is expected to be out for between 4-6 weeks. The injury meant a recall for Tom Lowery in the midfield three.
With Artell switching to a back three, there was a debut for loanee right back Jamie Sterry and Harry Pickering came back into the side for the suspended Zoumana Bakayogo. Crewe operated with a wing-back system to try and contain the physical threat of Jon Stead and Shola Ameobi.
The other change occurred in the front positions with Shaun Miller making his full second debut for the club with fellow loanee Harry McKirdy dropping to a stronger looking bench. The squad of 18 included young goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen, George Ray and on loan Dan Barlaser.
It was a close to a sell-out at an atmospheric Meadow Lane and the noisy Crewe contingent were contained in the corner of the Jimmy Sirrel Stand.
Within the new system, Crewe started confidently in possession and Miller made the Notts County goalkeeper Adam Collin rush from his goal to clear into touch after he raced onto a long ball from Tom Lowery.
Our bright start was rewarded with the opening goal after eight minutes. Crewe exploited the Notts County back line with real purpose and after Bowery and Ainley had exchanged passes inside the box, Bowery’s low shot across goal could only be palmed out by Collin and there was Miller to tuck home the rebound. It was typical poachers’ finish from Miller.
Crewe soon had a lucky escape after Walker was caught in possession close to our goal. In fairness, Stead appeared to have controlled a tricky ball with his arm but play was allowed to continue and thankfully from the edge of the box, Elliott Hewitt drove his shot handsomely over the crossbar.
More good approach play from Crewe saw Lowery find some space and find Miller and the confident striker drove a shot on target from 25 yards, but Collin had watched it all the way and made a simple enough save.
The Magpies hit back on 15 minutes after Crewe had conceded another free kick for a foul on Ameobi. Crewe were appropriately set in their defensive shape but after the ball was switched to Noor Husin the midfielder produced a quite stunning strike into Garratt’s top left hand corner. It was a fantastic strike to draw the home side level and Garratt stood no chance.
Miller’s runs were causing the County defence problems though and he raced onto a superb pass from Sterry. The on-loan striker controlled it on his chest but he couldn’t keep his volley down to test Collin on this occasion.
After a frantic start to an entertaining game both sides needed a period to take breath. Notts County forced a number of corners, but the Crewe defence stood firm and Garratt was fouled on another occasion inside the six yard box.
On the half an hour mark, Green made a sturdy but perfectly fair challenge but the referee incorrectly awarded a free-kick some 25 yards from our goal. Thankfully, Jorge Grant couldn’t keep his effort down and nothing came of the controversial decision.
Crewe continued to be resolute in our defending with the three centre-halves restricting efforts on Garratt’s goal. That was to change as we entered the closing stages of the first period.
With four minutes of the half remaining, Notts County took the lead after getting the rub of the green. A cross to the far post evaded Pickering and Stead used his strength to keep the ball alive close to the by-line. His low cross right across the six-yard evaded a succession of bodies to reach Hewitt and his shot into ground defeated Garratt. It certainly wasn’t the cleanest of strikes from Hewitt but he got enough on it to wrong foot the Alex goalkeeper.
Before the half time whistle, Nolan became the first Crewe player to be booked and the Notts County skipper Richard Duffy flashed a header wide of the target from a Grant free-kick.
In the opening minute of the second half, Lowery got a shot off from the edge of the box that was easily gathered by Collin. Ainley whistled inches wide of the far post following a clever turn inside a crowded penalty area from Miller.
Notts County’s first chance of the second half should have resulted in a third goal. Stead slipped in down the Crewe left and his low cross was side footed wide by Lewis Alessandra. The County striker protested that it should have been a corner and referee Huxtable changed his mind!
After Ameobi had forced a smart save from Garratt, the Alex boss made his first change of the game with Dan Barlaser replacing Lowery in midfield.
On 55 minutes, the Nottingham-born Bowery went awfully close to flicking home an Ainley corner. The striker stole a yard on Duffy to get his header on target but Collin did well to get his finger tips to it. It was beginning to develop into an end-to-end game type of game again and following some skill from Ameobi, his low cross found Grant in enough space for him to guide it into the corner of Garratt’s goal, but uncharacteristically he side footed far too close to the Crewe goalkeeper.
The pressure on the Crewe goal finally told just before the hour mark with Notts County opening up our back three with some inventive passing. Their fluent passing saw the ball played into Stead and his lay-off was perfect for the supporting Hewitt, who took it in his stride before smashing it past Garratt for his second of the afternoon.
Both managers instantly made changes with McKirdy replacing Pickering and Crewe switching to 4-3-3. Notts County boss Kevin Nolan also made a substitution with Ameobi being replaced by Mason Bennett.
Crewe played some neat and tidy football but we couldn’t quite find that final ball that could have got us back into the contest. One was narrowly taken off the foot of Ainley and Miller shot wide with an optimistic effort.
Crewe’s third and final change saw Kirk replace Walker. Crewe moved the steady Sterry into a more central position with Kirk and Ainley now playing as wing-backs.
With 13 minutes left, McKirdy went on a really determined run into the Notts County penalty area The on-loan Aston Villa forward did well to retain possession and find Kirk and his chipped cross to the far post was perfect for Ainley. His downward header was deflected inches wide for a Crewe corner.
Moments later, substitute Kirk wasn’t quite decisive enough when presented with the ball at his feet inside the box but it was pinched from his toes and a good chance was lost.
Crewe continued to try and press forward but those genuine chances never really fell to a Crewe shirt. Barlaser and Sterry were certainly comfortable on the ball and the experienced Green continued to drive us forward in search of a lifeline.
It didn’t materialise and the home side gleefully helped themselves to a fourth goal in the final minute. A quick counter attack saw Grant feed Alessandra and although his shot was saved by Garratt it dropped perfectly for Bennett to help himself to a goal.
With five minutes of stoppage time to play, Crewe were lucky to survive a fifth goal going into our net when Bennett’s shot smacked Garratt’s crossbar.