Crewe: Garratt, Whelan (Green, 63), Ray (c), Nolan, Pickering, Ng, Wintle, Jones, Ainley (Kirk, 69), Bowery, Miller (Reilly, 63)
Unused Subs: Richards, Hunt, Porter, Dale
Attendance: 2,388 (166 Crewe)
Crewe Alexandra suffered a third successive defeat as they went down 1-0 at play-off hopefuls Forest Green Rovers. The only goal of the game arrived on the brink of half-time when Joseph Mills’ low drive took a deflection off the onrushing George Ray to beat Ben Garratt. In truth there had been nothing in the game and neither side had deserved to go in leading at the interval.
Crewe rallied in the second half and gave everything they had to try and force an equaliser but not for the first time we again drew a blank on the road. It is the 9th time in 12 away games that we have failed to score but again it was not for the want of trying with Callum Ainley, James Jones and Ryan Wintle all having presentable chances.
Our best chance saw Jordan Bowery had a goalbound effort cleared from the line by the covering centre-half Farrend Rawson as the final minutes ticked away.
Crewe Alexandra boss David Artell welcomed back Shaun Miller to the starting line-up after his late introduction as a substitute against Exeter City last weekend. Miller really should have turned a 1-0 deficit into a point with the late chance he was presented with at St. James’ Park but his powerful drive hit the crossbar.
The on-loan Liverpool defender Corey Whelan also returned at right back as Artell went with a diamond formation in midfield. Perry Ng was at the base of the diamond with Callum Ainley operating behind the front two of Jordan Bowery and Miller. Charlie Kirk and Alex Nicholls missed out from the side that lost 1-0 last weekend.
With the Alex boss working with a virtually fit squad for the first time this season there were also recalls on the substitutes’ bench for Lewis Reilly and remarkably Paul Green. The veteran midfielder returned to first team action for the first time since suffering his cruciate knee injury at Carlisle United back in late August. He was well ahead of schedule and his presence has given the Alex a major boost ahead of Christmas.
Green had only played 45 minutes for the club’s Development squad against Nottingham Forest before his recall to the travelling squad. The strong eighteen, meant no place on the bench for Oli Finney, Nicholls, Michael Raynes or the on-loan Kevin O’Connor.
Crewe made a positive start and after good work from Miller, his strike partner Bowery just couldn’t quite connect with the floated cross that ended up at the far post.
More bright play from Crewe saw Pickering find Ainley down the left flank and his clipped cross into the box was touched goalwards by Miller but James Montgomery was well positioned to make a routine save.
On 12 minutes, a swift counter-attack from the home side so nearly saw Reuben Reid release George Williams through on goal but the experienced Eddie Nolan read the situation superbly well to slide the ball into touch on the cover.
Both sides were eager to play their football and it was a really competitive opening with both sets of players working hard to pressurise. That resulted in a few needless fouls and affected the flow of the game for a period.
Nolan was called upon again to avert a dangerous opening for Carl Winchester but the Crewe defender got there first to prevent him reaching Reid’s through ball.
Good hold up play from Bowery down the left then allowed him to find the supportive Wintle and his low drive from just outside the box had to be gathered at the second attempt by the grounded Montgomery. With half an hour gone, the contest was springing into life and captain George Ray had to make a telling block to deny Williams and his shot spun behind for a corner.
Moments later, the overlapping Whelan found some space down the right and he was found fantastically well by Ainley’s cross field pass. The full-back directed a low cross to the near post and Miller stole a yard to flick his effort goalwards but Montomery had read his intention to make the save. It was a fine move from the Alex that probably deserved better.
Ng broke from his anchor role in midfield to advance with the ball but he shot wide from 30 yards rather than to find Whelan in some space down the right.
Another deep free-kick from Forest Green Rovers taken by the ponytailed Joseph Mills found Winchester coming in at the far post but Garratt was well placed to allow the ball to hit his mid-drift and direct it behind for s corner.
As the half drew to a close, the home side increased the pressure and Ray had to react brilliantly to cut out a cross from Williams from going dangerously across a crowded six yard box. The Crewe captain out stretched a leg to turn it behind for a corner.
Nathan McGinley also rushed onto a cross going into the Crewe box but was probably going too quick to apply a true touch on it in front of Garratt.
That pressure finally told a minute before the break when Crewe presented winger Mills with too much time and space to get a shot off. Mills drilled a low shot that took a deflection off the onrushing Ray, to had come out to oppose him, and it flew past Garratt for the opener. It was one of the last kicks of the half and in truth neither side deserved to go in at the break leading.
Crewe came out for the second half on the front foot with Wintle firstly trying his luck from distance and then dragging a better opening wide of the target after he had been found by Miller. Moments later more encouraging pressure from Crewe saw Montgomery save from Bowery and then react really well to smother the follow up ahead of Wintle.
At the other end, the diminutive Reece Brown got under a shot to send it high over Garratt’s crossbar. Crewe were then exposed by the winger Williams but he shot into the side netting rather than on target when he really should of got it on target.
The Crewe boss was then booked for protesting too much to the fourth official after James Jones’ long range effort had certainly taken a touch off a defender and should have presented Crewe with a corner. The Forest Green goalkeeper Montgomery was then booked for preventing Miller from retrieving the ball as Crewe wanted to get on with things.
Ray made a timely interception to deny the lively Williams from find Reid and then Ng did really well to stand up and crowd the Forest Green forward from getting a shot off. There was also a good opening for Ainley but he couldn’t control his shot from 25 yards.
Just after the hour mark, David Artell made a double change with Whelan and Miller making way for Reilly and Green. Ng switched to right back.
Mark Cooper also made his first change with Dayle Grubb replacing the hard working Williams.
On 67 minutes, Forest Green so nearly made it 2-0 but Reid’s powerful cross shot thumped the Alex post and Grubb was denied in the follow –up by Nolan on the line. It was a let off at a crucial time of the game.
Artell’s last switch saw Kirk replace Ainley as Crewe really freshened up the attack. Forest Green’s second change saw the introduction of Theo Archibald for Reece Brown.
Crewe continued to press looking for an equaliser but they were not testing Montgomery as much as we did in the opening exchanges of the second half.
A fine interchange of passing then saw Liam Shephard presented with a one-v-one duel with Garratt but he shot just wide of the far post. It was another let off for the Railwaymen as we hung in there.
As the game entered its final stages, an organised Forest Green were prepared to drop off when needed and defend their 18 yard box in great numbers. Crewe were finding Rovers a tough nut to crack due to the lack of space in the Forest Green half of the pitch.
Reid made way for Tahvon Campbell as all six substitutes were introduced.
With eight minutes left a forceful run from Ng saw him add some impetus to the attack and he found Bowery on the edge of the opposition box. His lay off found Jones and his accurate shot took a slight deflection to take it wide. It was a good effort that probably needed the touch.
Crewe kept at it but Forest Green were content to stick with what they had. They remained resolute in their defending and shaved time off by taking their time.
With four minutes remaining, Crewe won a free-kick in a dangerous looking position, central to goal and 20 yards out but Lewis Reilly fired into the wall. Pickering’s follow up effort was blocked before Bowery had our best chance of levelling things up after he broke the offside trap after a clever flick from Reilly. Bowery applied a touch ahead of Montogomery to send it goalwards but it didn’t have enough legs on it and Rawson was able to get back and clear from the line.
With Crewe going for broke, a late surge from Grubb was foiled again by the excellent Ray and he got enough on his shot to take the pace off it for Garratt to collect.
In injury time, Jones was booked as frustration got the better of him. Crewe kept going but again could not find that away goal.