Following promotion to the third tier of English football, Crewe Alexandra started the new 2012/13 season with a first defeat in 21 games against Keith Curle’s Notts County side. County’s new signing Francois Zoko volleyed the visitors in front just minutes before the half time interval before they doubled their advantage with a deflected effort from Alan Judge on 57 minutes after a switch break from Yoann Arquin.
It was Arquin’s last real contribution of the afternoon because following a flash point with the Crewe captain Ashley Westwood, he kicked out at the Alex midfielder and was shown straight a red card by referee Whitestone.
Crewe really made a game of it when Mathias Pogba rose highest to head home a Westwood corner after 72 minutes and nearly snatched a late equaliser when Westwood had a low shot cleared off the line by County’s substitute Lee Hughes.
In a tight and scrappy affair, it was a good contest played out in a lively atmosphere at the Alexandra Stadium, with only needless stoppages and time wasting preventing the game from really flowing, especially when Notts County were hanging onto their slight advantage.
Steve Davis named four of his five summer signings in his starting line-up for the npower League One opening game. Mark Ellis and Gregor Robertson were named in the back four with the combative Abdul Osman ahead of them as the holding midfield player. Mathias Pogba, who scored twice on his debut for the club last weekend against Hartlepool United, started in his wide role on the left.
Goalkeeper Alan Martin made his Football League debut for the club while our England Youth International Ben Garratt was named on the substitutes bench, alongside Luke Murphy.
Crewe made a positive start to life in the higher division, forcing a succession of corners after Westwood had won the first with a low drive that was tipped behind Bialkowski.
Notts County’s first attempt saw Judge cross for Jeff Hughes but he couldn’t keep his header down on this occasion.
A fine passing move from the Railwaymen after 16 minutes, then saw Westwood find the run of Max Clayton and his attempted lob just didn’t have enough on it to take it over the line and Bialkowski was able to gather.
More promising football from the Alex saw Osman win the initial header and set Moore away into space and his instant pass found Pogba. The robust striker showed great strength to spin and shoot, but Bialkowski made the save. It had been an encouraging start and there was even a loud apply for a penalty when it appeared that Alan Sheehan had handled a header from Pogba.
Sheehan went close with a free-kick that seemed to brush the post before the assistant flagged for a handling offence on the line.
After a frantic start, the game did go a little scrappy and was littered with free-kicks. Notts County began to get control of the ball a lot more and Adam Dugdale did well to poke a shot from Zoko past the post. Crewe continued to play some promising football but our play just lacked that final quality ball in behind to release the runs of Leitch-Smith and Clayton.
With the first half drawing to a close, Judge wriggled free before shooting just wide of the mark. The deadlock was finally broken just minutes later. Crewe will be disappointed that they allowed the cross from Judge to enter the box and then Zoko was granted too much space to guide home his volley from close range.
There was still enough time left in the first half for AJ Leitch-Smith to lead a late counter attack but he overhit his pass in direction of Max Clayton.
The second half so nearly saw Crewe equalise almost immediately after more good work from Moore. He found Max Clayton who must have thought he had scored when he guided his shot goalwards, but Sheehan had read the situation superbly to complete a clearance off the line. It was top class defending from the former Crewe loanee.
Notts County soon got into their stride and Zoko shot inches wide after a swift break from the impressive Arquin. Zoko then headed straight at Martin after a good delivery from Judge. Their second goal arrived on 57 minutes after another swift counter attack. Judge ran clear down the flank and his deflected cross fell invitingly into the path of Arquin placed his shot beyond a helpless Martin. The shot may have taken another deflection to take it beyond the Crewe goalkeeper.
Moments later Arquin had a rush of blood and was sent off for kicking out at Westwood after the Crewe captain had wanted to take a quicker free-kick. He didn’t go quietly from the pitch either.
Substitutions saw Lee Hughes replace Zoko and Murphy come on for Crewe for Osman. A switch in tactics saw Pogba move centrally and Clayton out wide as the Alex tried to make the extra man count. With Murphy driving us on from midfield, Crewe began to take control of the game again. Gary Liddle did exceedingly well to head a clearance away from Pogba to concede a corner.
From the resulting corner, Pogba rose highest at the far post to head home Westwood’s delivery. It was his third goal of the season and it made for a grandstand finish.
Crewe did pile the pressure late on and were camped in the Notts County half. Pogba headed a Westwood corner over the top before Clayton flicked a Westwood free kick goalwards. It only needed the slightest of touches from the onrushing Dugdale.
The real late chance fell to Crewe’s captain after a good run from Gregor Robertson but his low drive was somehow deflected behind for a corner.