Crewe Alexandra recorded their fifth victory of the season with a superb 1-0 win over top of the league Bristol City at Gresty Road this evening.
A thunderous strike from on-loan midfielder Jamie Ness with 17 minutes left on the clock sealed the three points for Crewe. It was the Railwaymen’s first win since a 1-0 win over Peterborough back in October.
Bristol City went down to ten men just five minutes into the second half when full-back Derrick Williams was sent off for his second bookable offence for a trip on the handful of a forward Uche Ikpeazu. It continued to be an intriguing encounter, real end-to-end stuff with both set of players giving everything they had.
The Crewe defence were exceptional throughout keeping the Robins at bay with the returning Alan Tate calm and composed at the back and Harry Davis and George Ray making endless blocks and interceptions. When he was called upon to produce stunning saves, Ben Garratt excelled especially when denying Aden Flint in the first half and Araon Wilbraham in the second period.
For the visit of Steve Cotterill’s in-form Bristol City side, Steve Davis was forced into a change in his defence with Adam Dugdale ruled out with a knee injury. The current captain was ruled out after jarring his knee in training. The vastly experienced Tate was the obvious replacement in a back three.
Matt Tootle aggravated a quad muscle playing for the reserves against Burnley in mid-week and wasn’t risked after not playing a first-team game since 25th October. Youngster James Bailie continued to deputise at right wing-back.
With Dugdale and Tootle ruled out Harry Davis was named captain for the first time this season.
With ten of the first-team squad players missing due to illness and injury, the Alex could only name an 18-man squad with youngsters such as Perry Ng, Callum Saunders and James Jones on the substitutes’ bench.
The pre-Christmas encounter at Gresty Road began at a good tempo, but with both sides cancelling each other out playing similar systems, genuine opportunities on goal were fairly limited in the opening exchanges.
The best chance of the opening passage of play fell to Jamie Ness but from the edge of the box he couldn’t find the run of Uche Ikpeazu in behind and Mark Little was able to complete the clearance. Anthony Grant also shot wide of the mark and forced Frankie Fielding into a comfortable save with a shot across the penalty area.
With Crewe coming into the contest as an attacking threat, the on-loan Ikpeazu demonstrated his power to hold off the intentions of Little but his shot was collected by Fielding.
Ajose was lively, looking to get in behind a tight-knit Bristol City back line and his through ball just wasn’t collected well enough by Ollie Turton, who had made an encouraging run forward.
Bristol City best’s chance of the opening 20 minutes fell to the former Arsenal trainee Luke Freeman but he struck straight at Garratt.
The confident visitors continued to boss the possession but a lot of the play was happening in front of both defences.
Bristol City’s best chance came after 23 minutes via a Freeman free-kick right on the edge of the box. His curling effort defeated Garratt but the covering Grant did superbly to get the ball off the line.
After another strong run from Ikpeazu, where he demonstrated neat footwork inside the penalty box, the striker shot straight at Fielding again.
Another promising attack involving Ikpeazu and Ajose eventually broke out to the supportive full-back James Baillie but his shot from 25 yards whistled well wide of Fielding’s right hand post.
Bristol City were denied the lead on 28 minutes when the covering George Ray made a timely interception to prevent Bristol City’s leading scorer Aaron Wilbraham’s from tapping home another goal from close range. The Crewe centre-back did exceeding well to somehow get it clear.
On the half an hour mark, the Bristol City fully-back Derrick Williams was booked for catching Grant close to the by-line. He would be joined in the referee’s book by Uche Ikpeazu for a late lunge on Flint in the final minute of the first half.
Bristol City were forced into the first change of the game when Wade Elliott was forced off with a muscle pull. He was replaced by Marlon Pack.
The visitors continued to apply the pressure and forced a succession of corners. Their best opportunity of the half fell to defender Flint after an initial corner was sent back into the Crewe penalty area but the unmarked defender saw an alert Garratt somehow get his effort over the crossbar. The assistant referee’s flag remained down and the goal would have stood.
The excellent Davis then read the situation to deny Wilbraham a clear shot at goal and Freeman shot straight at Garratt after a forceful run across the 18-yard box.
Crewe’s best chance came with five minutes with the half remaining, with the advanced Greg Leigh picking out Grant at the far post. A great tough of control from the Alex midfielder allowed him to ghost past Williams and rifle in a powerful shot that Fielding did well to turn behind for a corner.
The second period started with Freeman curling a wonderful effort just wide of the far post before Williams was dismissed following a second booking. Five minutes into the second half he impeded Ikpeazu as he threated to make inroads into the Bristol half of the pitch.
George Ray was soon booked for a foul on Kieran Agard and the players had to tread carefully following the red card.
Davis made another timely interception to send Ajose clear and he was really unfortunate to see his curling effort clear Fielding’s far post. Grant also shot wide after good approach play from the busy Grant. Ikpeazu also shot straight at Fielding from a decent position.
Ray and Davis continued to block efforts from Wilbraham and Freeman and Agard had the best chance when a chance fell to him after Davis had initially cut out a cross from Luke Ayling but he couldn’t keep his shot down. It was a good chance.
Another good move from the Alex saw Ness find Ajose and his cut back across the six-yard just ran away from Ikpeazu as he tried to hold off the intentions of Flint.
On 65 minutes, Greg Leigh had a great chance to give the home side the lead after a shot from Grant had deflected into his path but he couldn’t keep his shot down either from a really good position.
Steve Davis introduced his first substitute after 68 minutes with George Cooper replacing Turton. Cooper nearly found Ajose with his first contribution with an excellent pass but Little read it well to cut it out.
The decisive break through came on 73 minutes with substitute Cooper laying the ball across for Jamie Ness and he powerfully fired past a helpless Fielding from the edge of the box. It was Ness’ first goal for the club and a wonderful winning goal from the Scotsman.
Baillie would have thought he was destined for his first goal for the club when his well struck effort defeated Fielding but Flint got his head on it to turn it away for a corner.
Chasing the game, Bristol certainly went with it, with Cotterill adding even more height with Matt Smith replacing Agard and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas on for the lively Freeman. In the later stages he even threw Flint forward. To counter the extra height, Steve Davis introduced Liam Nolan and Marcus Haber.
Wilbraham had the best chance when he shot on the turn but again the agile Garratt made a terrific save to get something on it and deflect it away for a corner.
Ray, yet again made a timely block on Emmanuel-Thomas as he threatened to force home a late equaliser and George Cooper raced clear in the 89th minute to make sure of the points but he steered his shot wide of the post. He knows he should have scored. Thankfully it didn’t come back to haunt us.
Bristol’s only really late chance to snatch a point saw Emmanuel-Thomas shoot wide of the mark. Crewe deservedly survived the five minutes of stoppage time to claim three superb points against one of the outstanding teams in League One.