Crewe Alexandra’s opening day hoodoo continued at Fleetwood’s Highbury Stadium thanks to early goals in the second half from David Ball and substitute Jamie Proctor but that didn’t tell the complete story with both Oliver Turton and Billy Waters hitting the crossbar and captain Matt Tootle having his penalty saved just after the hour mark. Brad Inman did score from the penalty spot in stoppage time after substitute Callum Saunders won a second spot kick from Liam Hogan but it was too late to salvage anything from the game.
Crewe’s record of not winning away on the opening day of the season went beyond the 20-years.
After Turton had struck the woodwork in the first half with a dipping shot from the edge of the Fleetwood penalty area, Waters went even closer in the opening minute of the second period with his effort striking the underside of the bar. After going so close to breaking the deadlock, the rather unfortunate Railwaymen found themselves behind barely seconds later after a smart turn and shot from the prolific Ball.
Proctor had been introduced at the interval for the injured Stephen Dobbie and after helping create the first, he duly scored a wonderfully taken second on 54 minutes.
Crewe did create a path back into the game just after the hour mark after Brad Inman had been tripped by Liam Hogan inside the box, but Matt Tootle shot too directly at Chris Maxwell and that opportunity from the spot was lost.
In the final minute of the game, Inman again won a penalty from Hogan and this time he stepped up to thunder his shot past Maxwell but it proved the final act of the game.
Only one of the club’s summer signings made his debut at Fleetwood’s Highbury Stadium with Scott Shearer getting the nod ahead of Ben Garratt for the goalkeeping spot. Forward Marcus Haber was named on the substitutes’ bench after missing a large chuck of the pre-season, but midfielder Chris Atkinson wasn’t risked after aggravating his hamstring against Wolverhampton Wanderers in pre-season.
Crewe youngster Billy Waters was handed only his second senior start in an offensive front three alongside Vadaine Oliver and Brad Inman. There was also a first appearance on the senior bench for first year professionals, Callum Saunders, James Jones, James Baillie and George Cooper. Crewe boss Steve Davis named 11 home grown players in his 18 man squad.
Former Crewe Alexandra players Steven Schumacher, Gareth Evans and Antoni Sarcevic all lined up for the home side.
An early long ball gave Fleetwood striker David Ball an early chance to try and run in behind, but covering full-back Jon Guthrie read the situation and made a perfectly timed intervention to stop him in his tracks.
On six minutes a corner from the left from Schumacher found the near post run of Sarcevic but he could only flick his header over Scott Shearer’s crossbar and into a section of the Crewe contingent behind that particular goal.
Crewe’s early burst of attacking play saw Anthony Grant find Brad Inman and his low cross had to be intercepted by Fleetwood’s captain Nathan Bond before it reached Oliver inside the six-yard box. Crewe also threatened a little in the air with both centre-backs George Ray and Adam Dugdale winning headers at the far post from accurate crosses from Tootle.
In fact, it was the Crewe captain, who so nearly broke the deadlock on 16 minutes with a moment of invention. The bustling Grant did superbly in the build up and his lifted pass seemed to nick the back of Oliver Turton and the uneven bounce caused Conor McLaughlin to lose his footing and possession. Tootle read the situation to nip in just inside the Fleetwood penalty area and his outside-of-the- boot effort would have beaten the Fleetwood goalkeeper Chris Maxwell if it hadn’t drifted away of the far post at the death. It was a wonderful effort from the right back.
In reply, Fleetwood’s new capture Scott Dobbie nodded down to Evans but he couldn’t keep his long range effort down enough to test Shearer for the first time. The Crewe goalkeeper perhaps should have been picking the ball out of the net for the first time after Sarcevic had found Ball on the edge of the six yard box, but the Fleetwood forward could only side foot his effort wide of the target. It should have been the opening goal of the game.
Sarcevic also went close but his lifted shot just cleared Shearer’s far post as Fleetwood began to look evidently more dangerous down the Crewe left.
Grant had Maxwell scrambling across his goal to hold onto his low shot from 20 yards out. Turton clipped the crossbar on 27 minutes after a really fluent move from the Railwaymen. The ball was transferred from right-to-left and Turton had the confidence to get the ball out of his feet and hit a dipping shot from around 22 yards out.
More flowing interchanging from the Alex involving Turton, front man Oliver and Waters saw Crewe conjure up another opening for Waters to get a shot off and his effort needed a deflection to take it past the post. The corner was straight into the gloves of Maxwell.
On 35 minutes, Fleetwood got in behind down the left hand side through the pace of Ball and his neat pull back found Dobbie in enough space to get his shot off, but Shearer stood firm to make a superb block. With the danger not clear and the new Crewe goalkeeper unaware of the assistant’s flag going up, he produced another fine save to deny Dobbie again once the ball was returned to him via Evans.
Although Fleetwood had arguably the better of the clear-cut chances, a fairly even first period saw Turton stir a header wide of the mark and Waters try to open up the home defence but he stumbled over after losing his footing.
Fleetwood’s new signing Dobbie failed to return for the second half and was replaced by Jamie Proctor. The second period instantly burst into life after Oliver bravely blocked a clearance from Pond and the ball broke invitingly to Turton. The advanced midfielder quickly passed on to Waters as he raced towards the Fleetwood penalty area. The winger checked back before unleashing a superb drive that struck the underside of the woodwork and rebounded to safety.
It was those thin margins again because seconds after Crewe had pressed and gone so close through W Waters that Fleetwood took the lead on 47 minutes. The fresh Proctor made inroads towards the Crewe by-line and his cut back found David Ball and his swift turn allowed him to fire past a helpless Shearer. It marked for an historical moment in Fleetwood’s history as it was their first ever goal scored at this level, but from a Crewe point of view we could have been ahead but were instead behind.
The introduction of Proctor certainly paid off for Fleetwood boss Graham Alexander. The new signing from Crawley, who scored a stunning goal against Crewe Alexandra last season, did it again with one of his first touches for his new club. After a deflected pass fell into his path on the corner of the Crewe box, he confidently took a touch before he unleashed a curling drive past Shearer for 2-0 on 54 minutes.
The two goal advantage certainly settled the home side down more and they continued to press looking for an ultimate killer third goal, but a burst of life from Inman gave Crewe a pathway back into the contest on 62 minutes. Inman’s drive into the box drew a challenge from Liam Hogan and referee Sutton did not hesitate in pointing to the penalty spot.
Captain Matt Tootle took the responsibility but shot centrally and rather tamely and Maxwell saved his effort with his legs. It was turning into one of those afternoons when we were not getting the rub of the green or not doing ourselves any favours either.
Hogan attempted to make up for conceding the penalty but trying his luck from 25 yards and Dugdale had to react quickly to prevent Evans from reaching a through ball from Ball.
Crewe’s play went a little scrappy before a double substation with 16 minutes left saw the introduction of Marcus Haber and Callum Saunders for Oliver and Grant.
Shearer had to be alert to deny Sarcevic after the Alex defence had switched off at a simply throw in. The former Crewe midfielder was allowed to get a shot off far too easily and Shearer did well to save with his legs.
As frustration took hold, Inman took hold of Sarcevic’s shirt and was the first player to be booked. Young James Baillie was handed his senior debut, replacing a tiring Guthrie in the closing stages.
It was Crewe wanting the final whistle and Shearer had to be called upon again to deny Sarcevic from close range and his former team-mate Ray did superbly to block another effort after a surging run.
Saying that Crewe continued to pass the ball and their reward was a second penalty award in stoppage time. Saunders drew a foul from foul from the full-back and this time Inman took over and struck an unstoppable shot past Maxwell but soon after the referee blew the whistle.