Really professional performance from Crewe to progres in the FA Cup after we survive a long delay at half-time to win 2-0 at Wham Stadium
One of the most bizarre FA Cup matches in history ended in a deserved Crewe Alexandra victory at the Wham Stadium. The Railwaymen are in the hat for round two (we are number 33) thanks to goals from Charlie Kirk and then Chris Porter via the penalty spot. Porter also hit the post in the first half with a firm header. Accrington Stanley also hit the woodwork following an ambitious effort from full-back Jerome Opoku - but that was only half the story on an unforgettable night in Accrington!
The Emirates FA Cup tie was delayed for over an hour after a second official was injured and was unable to continue in the middle or as an effective assistant in the second half. The two injuries meant that we were unable to agree on a potential impartial person prepared to step forward and run the line.
After much deliberation and discussion, it was agreed that the game would resume with one assistant and one referee. FA rules permit it. A coin was tossed to see at which end, the one assistant would officiate and in the end he would call the Accrington offside decisions.
Second substitute referee Gratton deserves great credit too because he went into the middle and made some key decisions in the second half when rightly awarding a penalty to Crewe and then showing Mark Hughes a straight red card for a professional foul on the electric Owen Dale. There were a few contenders for the Crewe Man-of-the-Match but Dale was the game changer on the night.
David Artell made two changes to the side that lost 1-0 to Port Vale in our last Sky Bet League Two match. Following his ankle injury sustained against Everton Under-21s on Tuesday evening, Eddie Nolan was not deemed fit enough to retain his place for the trip to the Wham Stadium. His place went to Christian Mbulu, who made his debut for the club on Tuesday. Nicky Hunt returned to the starting line-up alongside him after being rested against Everton Under-21s.
The other change was in the attacking sense with Dale returning to the side in place of Callum Ainley.
After being led on by members of the military and veterans, the two clubs and supporters observed an immaculate one minute of silence ahead of Remembrance Sunday.
Ahead of kick off, Crewe Alexandra’s Captain Perry Ng laid a wreath on behalf of the club along with Accrington’s skipper Seamus Conneely.
Artell had warned his players all week that John Coleman’s Accrington Stanley would fly out of the traps at his Alex side. The League One side certainly started on the front foot and the cup tie got off to a frantic start, but Crewe soon settled into it.
In the opening five minutes, Crewe worked a really good opening through the rapid foot work of Charlie Kirk and Tom Lowery and the diminutive midfielder instantly shifted the ball into Dale just inside the Accrington penalty area. The winger pushed the ball out of his feet before cracking a shot that needed tipping over by Dimitar Evtimov.
From the resulting corner, the Accrington goalkeeper did well under pressure to push a dangerous looking delivery away from danger.
Crewe continued to enjoy early possession, especially at the back through the relatively free Hunt and Mbulu. Our football was patient and deliberate as we looked for those small openings of space further up the pitch. When it was played up there, Porter battled gallantly with Mark Hughes to make sure we got into the final third with some purpose.
Another flowing move from the Railwaymen in the 13th minute saw the ball once again played to Dale and after he threatened to take on the towering Jerome Opoku, he checked back and calmly lifted a cross to the far post.
Porter was up and above Hughes and couldn’t believe that after connecting firmly with his header, it hit the Accrington post and as it dropped it was hooked away by a red shirt. Porter’s eyes must have lit up as Dale’s tantalising delivery came to him and the veteran striker will be disappointed not to have added to his impressive goal tally for this season.
Crewe were certainly getting joy through the pace and directness of Dale. The winger had the running of Opoku and the midfield continuously looked for him and with Lowery and Green driving from the middle of the park, the Railwaymen looked the most likely to open the scoring in the opening 20 minutes. Therefore it was disappointing that our growing momentum was halted due to an injury to referee Neil Hair! The referee appeared to have suffered a calf strain and had to be replaced.
When the game resumed following the stoppage and ‘substitution’, Crewe again got on the front foot and it was that man Dale providing the ammunition into the Accrington penalty area but on this occasion, the supporting Green couldn’t take it in his stride.
In contrast, the home side were struggling to build up too many threatening attacks and Will Jaaskelainen hardly had anything to do in the opening half an hour. Jordan Clark did try his luck from distance but he dragged his shot well wide of the right hand post.
With Dale tormenting Opoku all afternoon, it was no surprise that the full-back became the first player to enter the referee’s notebook for a bad challenge on the Crewe wide man. The Alex fans behind that particular goal felt it could have been more too.
The home side began to enjoy a spell of pressure and they complained to the official about a possible shirt pull on Bishop. The referee waved away the appeals.
Moments later, the excellent Lowery waltzed past a couple of challenges inside the box before seeing his goalbound effort deflected just wide of the target. If it hadn’t had taken a nick off the Accrington body then it well could have been Lowery putting the Alex ahead in this FA Cup tie. It would have been thoroughly deserved too.
As we entered stoppage time, Crewe broke superbly from an Accrington corner and Wintle and Ng raced through the middle of the pitch to create a two-on-one situation. Wintle elected to go alone and fired low into the mid-drift of Evtimov. To be fair, he had lost his footing slightly as the pacey Aji Alese tried to get back to him and was unable to square it to Ng.
The half really burst into life before the break and after Opoku had struck the crossbar with an ambitious effort from outside the box, Crewe eventually scored the goal that our performance deserved.
Again, Lowery was the instigator from the centre of the pitch and after the ball was swung out to the unmarked Kirk, the winger guided his low shot absolutely perfectly past a grounded Evtimov for his 5th goal of the season. It was a wonderfully calm finish into the far corner from the forward and Crewe deservedly went in 1-0 ahead.
There was still a period of concern as Nicky Hunt needed treatment after making a late block from Bishop but the defender was able to resume.
The half time interval was extended by over an hour because a second official was injured. Never ever happened before! After much dialogue the game resumed with only two officials. There was one assistant and now Danny Gratton as referee.
Hunt after his head injury, reappeared with a bandage wrapped across his forehead.
Accrington made a sub before we finally restarted at 5.10pm. McConville made way for Dion Charles.
The two officials had an early handball decision to make inside the Crewe penalty but the assistant was on that side and didn’t think there was any infringement.
Crewe’s first effort of the second half saw Green do superbly well to create a chance for Lowery but he shot straight at Evtimov. It was a good chance squandered and Lowery was disappointed that he hadn’t been able to get his shot away from the Accrington goalkeeper.
There was perhaps a foul on the edge of the box in the build up to Accrington’s next chance but the second substitute goalkeeper played advantage and Finley dragged his finish wide of the far post. It was a left off.
Crewe had to stand firm as a more purposeful Accrington side began to load our box. We defended a bouncing ball and an ensuing scramble inside our box with Hunt and Mbulu protecting our goal as much as possible. There was certainly more urgency from Coleman’s side as they chased an equaliser.
Their task though was made doubly difficult after the tricky Owen was felled inside the penalty area on 58 minutes. He had been threatening to cause mayhem all afternoon. Porter stepped up and thumped us 2-0 up! It was the leading scorers’ 9th of the campaign and just reward for those travelling Crewe fans who stood in the cold behind that goal during that lengthy delay.
Coleman made an instant substitute with full-back Callum Johnson replaced by the more attack minded Wilson Carvalho.
With Crewe two goals up and in control, Jaaskelainen was booked for time wasting at a goal kick. Coleman’s final sub saw him bring on giant Ross Syke for fellow giant Opoku as they went to three defenders at the back to try and get back into the tie.
The home side nearly got that lifeline after a tremendous run and flashes of skill from sub Charles. He tricked his way past Hunt and avoided another tackle before seeing his shot blocked by a retreating Crewe back line.
With 13 minutes left on the clock, an electric run from Dale saw him blitz through the Accrington defence and they were not going to stop him until Hughes chopped him down. It was no surprise that the red card soon followed because it was one of the most blatant professional fouls you will ever see.
Pickering hit the wall and then his follow up was deflected wide for a corner. It was another good chance to put this tie to bed.
Lowery arguably deserved a goal too and he was denied a third Alex goal by a smart save from Evtimov. He got enough on his lifted shot to take it over the bar and Ng curled in a decent effort from the corner but the home side eventually cleared the danger.
With frustration creeping into Accrington’s play as the tie slipped away, Carvalho was booked for yet another foul on Dale.
Crewe saw out the game in a really professional manner to book our place in round two. It was professional from us all day.