Eddie Nolan nets only goal as Crewe get home form up and running.
Crewe Alexandra recorded their first home win of the season with a really spirited 1-0 win over Walsall this afternoon. Centre-half Eddie Nolan tucked home the only goal of the game just after the hour mark and that proved to be the decisive moment in a competitive affair.
On first viewing, the Saddlers certainly had a case that the assistant should have raised his flag when Nolan pounced on a Perry Ng shot - but the final contact looks to be off a Walsall defender and the flag never went up and the Crewe man-of-the-match Nolan finished like a seasoned forward.
Charlie Kirk had a goal chalked off for offside after the Walsall goalkeeper, Liam Roberts, had made a sensational save to deny Chris Porter his fourth goal of the season. The Walsall stopper also pushed away a well struck effort from Harry Pickering in the second half.
Crewe had to see out five minutes of stoppage time with ten men after Olly Lancashire was sent off on his home debut for two bookings. They were both soft cautions and David Artell sent on Nicky Hunt to see out the remaining few minutes and we deservedly held on for all three points. It was Crewe’s third win of the week following those successes away at Oldham and Middlesborough in the Carabao Cup.
Crewe Alexandra boss David Artell reverted back to the side that won 2-1 at Oldham Athletic last weekend. That meant recalls for Will Jaaskelainen, Paul Green and Daniel Powell after all three missed our mid-week cup heroics at the Riverside Stadium for various reasons.
The unlucky ones to miss out were youngster Owen Dale, Callum Ainley and goalkeeper Dave Richards.
Olly Lancashire was deemed fit enough to resume his place in the starting line-up. Lancashire was forced off with a tweaked groin against Middlesbrough but he did not suffer a re-occurrence of the injury that effective his pre-season preparations and sadly his red card will rule him out of Tuesday’s trip to Crawley. He will serve a one match suspension.
Veteran defender Nicky Hunt was named on the substitutes’ bench for the first time this season after he overcame the slight knee injury he suffered against Wrexham in our final pre-season game.
Darrell Clarke’s Walsall side started the brighter and with the assistance of the wind were forcing Crewe towards our own goal.
With Crewe struggling to make inroads into the Walsall half, the visitors created the best chance of the first half in the early exchanges. Cameron Ping from his left wing back position raced down the Alex right hand side and his pull back was perfect for Caolan Lavery but he wastefully screwed his shot wide of the target. It was a golden opportunity but Lavery sliced it wide from a great position.
Crewe had to deal with a succession of long throw ins from Cameron Norman on the other side but we stood up well enough to those high balls going into our penalty area.
David Artell’s side settled into it though and slowly but surely, we began to create some half chances. Daniel Powell and Tom Lowery had a couple of bursts to the opposition by-line and an early chance for Porter was halted by an assistant’s flag after he had tried to turn home shot from Charlie Kirk.
Fine approach play from captain Perry Ng saw him slip in Powell but his low shot was blocked by the covering Pring before it called Liam Roberts into action in the Walsall goal. Porter then took one down on his chest but his follow up shot was blocked on the edge of the box by Zak Jules.
A good interchange of passes between Pickering and Kirk saw the winger clip over a cross but the assured Roberts collected it before it reached the head of Porter. Pickering then cut inside but fired his shot from around 22 yards over the crossbar.
Walsall were always a threat with their athletic full-backs and Norman’s great run past Pickering saw him reach the six yard box but his low cross was cleared by Lancashire. On the opposite flank, Pring’s strong run ended in a deflection over the top of the Crewe crossbar.
Crewe had to rely on the covering Eddie Nolan to halt a surging run from the pacey Josh Gordon as he went one-on-one with the Irishman. It was a timely tackle on the edge of our own penalty area. He did brilliantly.
From another Walsall corner, Nolan flicked a dangerous looking delivery over again and Crewe had to with stand some late pressure to get in at half time level.
At the beginning of the second half another fine burst from Pickering saw him deliver a dangerous cross and if Porter had applied a touch, he would have given Roberts no chance.
Pickering then forced Roberts into an outstanding save after he was teed up by an alert Kirk. The left-back’s shot was destined for the top corner but Roberts produced a strong hand to push it over. It was a fantastic save.
Crewe certainly started the second half better than the first and Jules had to cover and slide away a chance for Powell to make inroads into the box.
At the other end, the quick Gordon flicked past Nolan but his eventual pull-back evaded all the lime green shirts entering the area. Clarke made a double change with Wes McDonald and James Hardy coming on for Cameron Norman and Jack Kiersey.
His final change saw the towering Elijah Adebayo replace Gordon but that occurred after the decisive breakthrough on 61 minutes. There seemed to be no danger when Ng tried his luck with a low shot from outside the box but it hit Powell and then appeared to hit a Walsall body before falling for Nolan and he tucked it away in the corner with real accuracy. The Walsall players all surrounded the referee wanting a flag but it was never raised and the goal stood.
It became a real battle of wills after that and Crewe had to withstand some high balls being sent into the region of the Adebayo. He certainly won a number of free-kicks and Crewe were guilty of giving too many away cheaply. It would cost Lancashire in the end as his two soft bookings saw him later sent-off. He was a touch unlucky with what had gone on before with no consequences. Ng was also booked.
Crewe had to stand firm, Wintle cleared a header from Dan Scarr away from the line and Pring whacked a free-kick wastefully into the top the stand.
Jaaskelainen came and took everything on a couple of occasions to ease some of the pressure but he wasn’t really called upon to make a note able save in the entire 90 minutes.
The game became scrappy and was littered with free-kicks. Owen Dale came on for Powell and added some real zest and one run down the touchline was outstanding and so nearly found Porter. He also made one tremendous block in his defensive duties to deny Adebayo.
Crewe should have wrapped the points up when Tom Lowery was presented with a chance inside the six yard box but he took his time and his eventual effort was blocked on the line.
With the game entering stoppage time, Lancashire was dismissed and that meant a late introduction for Hunt. In a rather tense end to the game, Crewe were never really troubled and Porter was an excellent outlet to get us up the pitch. He used all his experience to hold the ball up, win throw-ins and free-kicks and help us over the line for a great three points.