Crewe Alexandra’s impressive run of victories at the Priestfield Stadium came to end this afternoon after first half goals from midfielder Bradley Dack and Cody McDonald, with the last kick before the interval, gave the Gills a first home win in five games. Crewe had won on their previous four visits.
Dack curled home the opener after 18 minutes barely 60 seconds after our best chance of the first half saw Marcus Haber head a Jon Guthrie cross just wide of the mark.
McDonald broke the offside trap to make it 2-0 before the break. His initial shot was blocked by Ben Garratt but bizarrely the ball looped and dropped over the line, as Guthrie struggled to get it off the line.
Crewe improved in the second half with substitute Anthony Grant injecting some energy in midfield when introduced at the break. The Railwaymen were certainly more of a threat in the second half but it was more half chances for the likes of Marcus Haber, Billy Waters and fellow sub Greg Leigh.
The only change to the Crewe Alexandra side that narrowly lost to Bolton Wanderers in the Capital One Cup was the reintroduction of forward Marcus Haber for Vadaine Oliver. Crewe welcomed back their leading scorer after he was initially rested in mid-week.
After being given the all-clear by the club doctor in the week, defender George Ray travelled to Kent. Ray had suffered a nasty cut against Bolton on Tuesday evening and needed five stitches in a wound. He suffered no concussion and was free to play at the Priestfield Stadium.
Ray showed no ill effects from his recent injury by coming through a crowd of players to win an early header in the centre of the pitch.
With the former Cheltenham Town winger Jermaine McGlashan making an early impression with his pace, Adam Dugdale had to bravely halt the Gillingham captain Danny Kedwell in his stride on the edge of the Crewe penalty area and took an almighty bang on his shin. He soon shook it off and moments later it was Matt Tootle flicking a cross away from Kedwell at the far post.
Gillingham continued to load the Crewe penalty area in the early exchanges, but Ray and Dugdale were applying good distance on their clearing headers.
Crewe soon settled though and produced some accurate passing to take some of the pressure growing on our back line. Haber was doing his best to hold the play up with his back to goal.
On 11 minutes, a Jake Hessenthaler corner was headed a yard over the top of Ben Garratt’s crossbar by Cody McDonald.
Two minutes later, the same player should really have tested Garratt for the first time after McGlashan had fired over a dangerous looking cross. McDonald leaned back too much to only lift his effort over the bar from no more than six yards out.
Crewe produced their best move to conjure up a chance for Haber after 17 minutes. Ollie Turton broke from midfield to free Brad Inman. He checked back to provide Guthrie with a chance to cross and while the Gillingham defence hesitated appealing for offside, the alert Haber reacted quickest but couldn’t quite direct his firm header on target to test Stephen Bywater for a first time.
Barely sixty seconds after creating their half chance, Crewe found themselves a goal behind. The lively McGlashan was the instigator once again and after taking on Guthrie, his cross was only cleared to the handily placed Bradley Dack and the long-haired midfielder had time and space to curl a shot beyond Garratt for his first goal of the season.
McGlashan was certainly a handful and another of his low crosses found McDonald. He quickly unleashed a shot from pretty close range, but Ray did brilliantly to get across and block it with his head. It would have certainly asked a severe question of Garratt if he hadn’t had got there.
With the home side on top in the possession stakes, Dugdale also did well to prevent McDonald from having a clear run at goal after Kedwell had cleverly flicked possession towards his run into our penalty area.
Dack had another mishit shot deflected through to Garratt via the lunging George Ray before a better passing move from the Railwaymen saw Inman take on full-back Gavin Hoyte but Turton’s eventual cross was a bit long for the run of Haber.
Dugdale, yet again, produced a timely intervention to deny Kedwell after McDonald had won the first header to nod it downwards towards him, but the Alex defender managed to stretch his leg out and volley it back over his head.
Gillingham scored with the final kick of the first half. McDonald broke the offside trap in the left hand channel to race one-on-one with Garratt. To his great credit, the Crewe goalkeeper did exceedingly well to block the shot but the ball looped up towards the Crewe crossbar and with Guthrie retreating to the goal -line, the ball dropped awkwardly and the Crewe left –back couldn’t get the ball from the line. The assistant referee awarded the goal after the ball literally trickled over the line. Crewe needed the half-time break and that second goal coming when it did was a severe blow.
Steve Davis made a change at the interval with Anthony Grant replacing Turton. Grant’s first contribution saw him carry the ball forward and release Inman and his low cross was cut out by John Egan.
After Waters was fouled, a fine delivery from Guthrie picked out Haber at the far post but the ball dipped and it was tricky for him to get a substantial contact on his header.
It was a lot brighter from the Alex at the start of the second half with Grant trying to immerse himself in the game from the off. He won a couple of free-kicks and was trying to get on the ball as much as possible to try and give us a lift. Crewe was certainly in the Gillingham half of the pitch a lot more frequently.
With Atkinson down with a facial injury, the referee allowed play to unfold but Kedwell could only fire straight at Garratt from the edge of the 18-yard box. He was certainly closer on the hour mark though when he lashed a shot just inches wide of Garratt’s left hand post.
On 62 minutes Davis made his second change with Greg Leigh introduced for Atkinson. Crewe operated with three at the back with Leigh and Tootle as attack-minded wing backs. Crewe’s system switched to 3-5-1-1.
Leigh’s first venture into the Gillingham half of the pitch saw him produce a low cross for Billy Waters but he couldn’t make a connection in front of goal and the chance was lost. Moments later he did get a shot off but this time it lacked the power to really test Bywater. A better second half performance from the Alex needed a goal.
The Alex boss placed his faith in young Callum Saunders to perhaps provide that lifeline back into the contest by introducing him for Waters on 70 minutes.
Ray was booked for clipping the heels of McDonald as he tried to latch on a through ball from Dack but it looked more accidental than anything. A well worked free-kick taken by Joe Martin on the edge of the box, allowed McDonald to drill a shot goalwards but it was deflected behind for a corner.
The tricky McDonald twisted and turned up against Dugdale but could only tamely shoot at Garratt with the outside of his boot. Ray and Dugdale continued to defend bravely up against the striking partnership of Kedwell and McDonald.
McDonald made way for Brennan Dickinson with 13 minutes remaining. Kedwell also made way for Luke Norris.
The Alex needed a break to set up an anxious last ten minutes for the home side and substitute Leigh was presented with a half chance after Haber had flicked the ball over to the wing-back. The on-loan Manchester City youngster could only hit his first time shot straight at Bywater.
With five minutes on the clock, Grant whipped over a cross but from a tight angle Haber could only head into the gloves of Bywater. Inman also shot straight at the Gillingham goalkeeper as we went in search of that late goal that could have made the final few minutes more interesting.
In fact, it was the home side, who needed scored in stoppage time but the impressive McGlashan headed against the right hand post.