AJ scores brace but 10-men Crewe cannot hold on
Two fabulously taken goals from AJ Leitch-Smith inside the opening seven minutes proved not enough as a spirited Stevenage battled back to force a draw at the Lamex Stadium. They were given a helping hand by the rashness of Chucks Aneke after the teenager from Arsenal was shown a straight red card after 71 minutes for a high challenge on Anthony Grant. Minutes later, Stevenage’s substitute Robin Shroot turned to fire past Alan Martin and cancel out our good work in the first half.
Stevenage thought they had won in the final minute after Luke Freeman looked to have completed an unlikely comeback but after a short delay, the referee’s assistant ruled it off for offside.
With the on-loan Harry Davis returning to his parent club Manchester City because of the seriousness of his knee injury, Crewe were forced into a change for the trip to the Lamex Stadium. Bunn’s place went to another loan player Chucks Aneke. There was also a promotion to the first-team squad for youngster Ryan Colclough, who was handed the number 27 shirt.
Crewe had to cope with some early pressure inside their own box with Patrick Agyemang firing a cross off of Luke Murphy for a corner in the opening minute. Crewe cleared the initial danger but Harry Davis had to be in the right place at the right time to head clear a dangerous ball from Luke Freeman.
A frantic start, then saw a bouncing ball just evade Max Clayton at the far post after Byron Moore had used his pace down the right.
From our first free kick inside the Stevanage half of the field, Crewe created the first goal of the match on just five minutes.
After Gregor Robertson’s free-kick had struck the end of the Stevenage wall, centre-half Mark Ellis reacted the quickest to seize onto the loose ball, before he turned and drilled a really dangerous low cross across the box and the gambling AJ Leitch-Smith raced in to plant it into the roof of Chris Day’s net. It was a real poacher’s finish from the local lad and Ellis had done superbly as the creator.
It became even better for Crewe and Leitch-Smith just two minutes later. Aneke kept his composure in midfield to play the Alex striker in behind our former Academy graduate Mark Roberts and Leitch-Smith drilled a low past a helpless Day. It was the perfect start from the Alex and Stevenage were pretty shell-shocked.
Credit to the home side though as they tried to make up for a slow start with Lucas Akins finding his target man Marcus Haber inside the Crewe penalty area, but he could only direct his header down and into the gloves of Alan Martin.
Despite having the cushion of a 2-0 lead, the Alex had a spell of surrendering possession far too easily and with playmakers such as Anthony Grant around it was a dangerous pattern to fall into. The home side were attempting to turn the Crewe centre-halves at any given opportunity, but Ellis and Davis were clearing their lines well enough. Robertson also did exceedingly well to head away a Freeman corner from underneath our own crossbar.
Stevenage’s pressure on our goal finally paid off on 26 minutes. Again the Alex defence were turned to face our own goal and after a good touch from Agyemang, Luke Freeman got the ball out of his feet and thundered a shot past Alan Martin from the edge of the Crewe box. Martin didn’t move as it flew into his left hand corner.
Almost immediately a lack of concentration at the back from Stevenage presented Max Clayton with the chance to try his luck from 30 yards, but Day was equal to his effort and pushed it away for our first corner of the afternoon.
Davis was called upon again to clear the danger from the boot of Akins after yet another scramble inside the Crewe penalty area. Grant also dragged a shot wastefully wide after he had tricked his way past Osman on the edge of our box.
On 38 minutes, the Railwaymen were unlucky not to score a third after a well worked move saw Murphy sent Moore racing into the Stevenage penalty area. He very calmly back healed possession into the path of Leitch-Smith and although his low shot beat Day, it didn’t get past the former Crewe loanee David Gray on the line. It was top class defending from the former Manchester United youngster, as he showed real composure to clear.
With the minutes ticking away before half-time, Haber headed wide after another dangerous cross from the splendid Freeman. Martin also had to rush out quickly to smother the ball away from Haber.
Stevenage started the second half where they had ended in the first half, forcing a succession of early corners and James Dunne having an effort blocked. There was a short stoppage after Grant had twisted when stopping Clayton from getting away on the half way line, but the former Southend man shook it off.
At the other end, Ellis just couldn’t reach a well struck free-kick from Robertson at the far post. Crewe began to impose themselves more on the proceedings and Stevenage had their covering defender Jon Ashton to thank for preventing Leitch-Smith from netting his first senior hat-trick after he had been picked out superbly by Ellis. Ashton’s long stretched leg turned it behind for a corner. Murphy’s excellent delivery was headed just headed over the top of the crossbar.
Moments later, Davis put Day under pressure after Mellor had won the first header inside a crowded penalty area. With Crewe on top in an attacking sense, the skilful Aneke saw his shot deflected away for a corner after he had linked up well with Max Clayton.
To try and get a foothold back into the game, Stevenage replaced the tiring Agyemang for the fresh legs of Robin Shroot. Darius Charles headed straight at Martin as the home side tried to find the equaliser and Osman was booked for catching Dunne with his arm.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Aneke clumsily clattered into Grant and was instantly shown the red card by referee Gavin Ward. Crewe were holding on and had to do with ten men as the on-loan Arsenal youngster made his way from the pitch.
It resulted in an instant change with goalscorer Leitch-Smith making way for Matt Tootle. Tootle went to the left of midfield with Clayton operating as the lone striker. Stevenage also made the rest of their changes with Greg Tansey and Dani Lopez coming off the bench to add from legs and make that extra man count.
It paid off with just ten minutes left on clock, as Shroot turned sharply inside a crowded penalty area to dispatch a shot past Martin for an equaliser. Crewe were now trying to see out a draw.
As you would expect with that man advantage and seeking a late winner, Crewe were pretty much camped in their own half and survived a late call for a goal in the final minute when the linesman ruled a late ‘winner’ from Freeman for offside.
There was still time for Martin to push away a superb shot from sub Tansey and Crewe had a point from a eventful afternoon.