Crewe battle to a hard fought draw against Cheltenham after losing skipper Ng to a red card with 20 minutes left.
Crewe Alexandra had to show another level of character again to make sure we came away from Cheltenham with a hard fought point for our efforts. Not only did we have to come from behind once again after conceding from a 9th minute corner routine, but we also had our influential captain Perry Ng sent off with 20 minutes left for two bookable offences.
Gavin Reilly had prodded the home side in front from a scrambled corner to put the home side ahead with their first genuine chance, but Crewe regrouped well to equalise in first half stoppage time following a well worked move involving Tom Lowery and Harry Pickering. Leading scorer Chris Porter was slipped in and he made no mistake with a calm finish past the onrushing Scott Flinders.
Although Crewe had to hold on in the remaining minutes mainly due to Cheltenham’s extra ma advantage, we dug in and picked up a well-deserved point.
Cheltenham had a late chance to steal the points but Will Jaaskelainen was well placed to save from Ryan Broom after substitute Alex Addai had laid one on a plate for him.
David Artell made just the one change to his starting XI for the trip to the Jonny Rocks Stadium. The Crewe boss went with more experience and physicality when selecting Daniel Powell ahead of Owen Dale in his three man attack. Dale had impressed on his full league debut against Salford City last weekend, hitting the post in our 4-1 win over the newly promoted side.
Our former forward, Luke Varney, led the attack for Michael Duff’s Cheltenham Town side. Chris Clements started on the bench for the home side.
As the game kicked off, the travelling Alex fans were in fine voice behind one of the goals. The playing surface at Whaddon Road was in pristine condition and suited both sides preference to producing an attractive style of play.
Crewe made a positive start to the game and continued to get some joy down our left hand side with Harry Pickering, Charlie Kirk and usually Tom Lowery combining well down that particular flank. A fine long range pass from Nicky Hunt from inside his own half found Kirk close to the Cheltenham by-line and the Alex managed to force an early corner. The second phase play from Pickering saw his cross headed away by Ben Tozer with Chris Porter lurking behind him.
The home side’s early ventures forward saw Varney fire a dangerous looking cross right over our box before they took the lead on 9 minutes via a set piece corner that was won after Chris Hussey’s cross was deflected behind by the boot of Perry Ng.
Jacob Greaves towered highest to force Will Jaaskelanien into a fantastic reflex save but as we tried to smuggle it off the line, a determined Gavin Reilly forcefully poked it into the roof of the Crewe net for the opening goal. There had been nothing in the game and Crewe will be annoyed to concede from Cheltenham’s first real set play routine.
Hunt was the first player to be cautioned in the 17th minute after a bit of a lunge at Hussey but it hardly warranted a caution so early in the game when a tackle had barely been made.
Crewe did have the ball in the Cheltenham net two minutes later after right wing-back, Sean Long, had simply gifted possession to Kirk. His approach play into the Cheltenham box was good but Porter had strayed just offside when Kirk threaded it through to him and his finish into the far corner didn’t stand.
At the other end, Wintle surrendered possession too easily in the middle of the pitch and Reilly was through on goal but Nolan did fantastically well to recover and block his final shot. It spun away for a corner and Crewe defended this one much more comfortably than the last one.
Following the disappointment of conceding an avoidable goal from the corner, The Alex certainly began to enjoy more of the possession. We kept the ball patiently, looking to probe an opening and only the assistant’s flag prevented Kirk from getting in behind Long. Wintle also had low shot deflected behind for a corner.
From another well worked Cheltenham corner, taken by Hussey on the left hand side, his disguised low pass found Varney but thankfully for Crewe, Nolan had read the intention and threw himself in front of the attacker’s powerful shot.
Jake Doyle-Hayes was booked for a foul on Lowery as Crewe threatened to break using the pace of Powell through the middle of the pitch. The referee halted the potential counter attack to caution the Cheltenham player.
Powell was the next player to be booked after he caught Conor Thomas as he tried to pinch possession back for Crewe.
Crewe’s probing finally paid off in first half stoppage time. The Railwaymen kept the ball really well to shift Cheltenham around and Lowery and Pickering combined to slip Porter in behind and as Flinders rushed out to try and narrow his angle, the experienced forward slipped it past him for his 5th goal of the season. It was no more than Crewe had deserved.
Straight from the re-start, only a stretched out toe from Long actually prevented Porter from sending Kirk through on goal. It was timely interception from the wing-back.
The skipper Ng became the third Crewe player to be booked for a foul on Doyle-Hayes. The Cheltenham players surrounded the referee wanting more but Ng had won the ball and had only been a bit over zealous in doing so. Hussey was likewise for catching Kirk, who was too quick for him and flicked it away from him.
A bouncing ball then fell in the favour of Powell and he was unlucky to see his well struck shot blocked. It would have given Flinders showing to content with.
The yellow cards continued to rack up with Jones booked. On 58 minutes, Artell made his first change of the afternoon with Dale replacing Powell.
Jaaskelainen was tested by the impressive Reilly after he had been fed by Hussey inside the Crewe penalty area. His cross shot forced a strong hand from the Crewe goalkeeper and Nolan was on hand again to clear any potential danger in the follow up.
Just after the hour mark, Varney had the perfect chance to inflict more misery on his former club by he couldn’t direct his poked effort on target after more good play from Reilly. It was a let off for the Alex. Varney also went into the referee’s busy book for going through the back of Wintle.
Reilly continued to be a thorn in our side and after a swift turn and shot, it was that man again Nolan clearing it off the line. The play had been allowed to continue but once it was cleared for a corner the referee produced a second yellow card for Ng for a pull back on Broom in the build-up.
Crewe were reduced to 10 men with 20 minutes left and Artell quickly introduced Olly Lancashire for Kirk. Hunt moved to right-back.
Cheltenham made a surprise change too with Reilly making way for Alex Addai but he certainly injected some pace.
With the minutes ticking away and Crewe aiming to preserve what we had. The fresh legs of Chuma Anene were introduced for Porter. Clements also replaced Doyle-Hayes.
Crewe really had to dig in to contain the extra man of Cheltenham for the final five minutes and then six extended minutes. Those long throws from Tozer continued to be launched into our box but we were standing firm.
Addai showed Nolan a clean pair of heals in the 86th minute and his pull back for Broom was perfect but he slid his low shot too close to Jaaskelainen and the Alex stopper made another good save.
Crewe battled to the death and held out for a share of the spoils against a Cheltenham side who are a tough nut to crack at home.