Aneke brace not enough as Posh prove too strong in the end
Crewe Alexandra once again took a play-off hopeful right to the wire but were again rewarded with nothing for our efforts. Crewe had led through Chuks Aneke's splendidly taken curler but were 2-1 before the break thanks to a penalty from Britt Assombalonga and a breakaway goal that was tucked away by Nicky Ajose five minutes before half-time.
Aneke drew Crewe level with a well taken second goal before the home side again went up the other end to retake the lead through Danny Swanson.
Mark Ellis and Mathias Pogba both went close in a game of chances before the impressive Conor Washington sealed the result with a well taken solo effort. Crewe had been in the game up to that point but there is no doubt that we just couldn't contain them when they went up a level. Peterborough are relentless with their attacking and in Swanson and Washington had the two stand out players on the pitch along with Aneke for the Alex.
Steve Davis kept his starting line-up close to his chest going into today's game at London Road and surprisingly handed young Billy Waters his first senior start following his encouraging cameo appearance as a substitute against Swindon. Waters came in for Byron Moore, who dropped back to the bench.
With Bradden Inman unable to shake off the hip injury he sustained in the 1-1 draw with Swindon last week, there was a first start for the on-loan Cameron Park. As expected George Evans returned to the Crewe midfield after missing the last two games with a foot injury. The Manchester City youngster took the place of Liam Nolan, who featured for the Northern Ireland Under 21s in mid-week.
There was also positive news with Uche Ikpeazu back from injury and fit enough to travel to Peterborough.
Peterborough's influential captain Tommy Rowe was soon involved in a couple of early attacks. He stole in at the far post behind Matt Tootle but could only direct his tame header down and into the gloves of Ben Garratt. Moments later he whistled a shot wide of the target after Mark Ellis' headed clearance had fallen to him some 20 yards out.
Crewe were finding it difficult to enjoy any sustained possession and get into the Peterborough half of the pitch but were defending our penalty area reasonably well.
A bright spark came from winger Cameron Park, who after showing good, quick feet in around the Peterborough penalty area made Bobby Olejnik fumble his shot. The goalkeeper was up quickly to gather the loose ball.
The following attack from Crewe resulted in the opening goal after nine minutes. After Anthony Grant and Mark Ellis had competed to keep the ball in the Peterborough half of the field, a lovely cushioned pass from Park set Aneke away into the penalty area. The on-loan Arsenal starlet didn't appear to have much on as we waited for bodies to join him, but with everyone expecting a cross, he curled it over Olejnik and into the opposite corner of the net for his 13th goal of the season. From an extremely tight angle, Aneke had shown his class finishing yet again.
Unfortunately for Crewe, the lead lasted barely the time it took for us to celebrate and regroup for the kick-off. Peterborough went up the other end of the pitch and after Harry Davis had got the wrong side of Conor Washington his untidy challenge resulted in a penalty. Britt Assombalonga, who had returned to the Peterborough starting line-up this afternoon, slotted his spot-kick past Garratt.
Peterborough continued to try and get the ball forward as quickly as possible to their powerful and busy front two. Nicky Ajose, who operated from a wide left position, then shot straight at Garratt after more good work from Washington.
A header from Shaun Brisley from a corner produced a fine save from Garratt and the ensuing melee saw Washington and then Michael Bostwick have firm follow up efforts blocked inside a crowded penalty area. Crewe continued to protect Garratt's goal with real efficiently. As an attacking force our genuine chances were just as limited although Park and Aneke were combining well in phases.
A lifted pass from Aneke nearly found the forward run of Park before the home side struck a Crewe post. Washington made a nuisance of himself again and his shot at goal seemed to get a flick off the head of his strike partner Assombalonga and rebound off the far post.
On 40 minutes, Aneke was fouled close to the touchline and Park's free-kick was accurate enough to cause mayhem inside the box. Davis and Ellis went for it before it fell invitingly at the feet of Pogba. He tried to adjust his feet to create a clearer opening and by the time he had, the Peterborough defenders were on top of him and applied a hefty block.
The ball broke in their favour and with our centre-halves caught up field, Posh quickly punished us on the counter attack. Danny Swanson raced into our half unopposed before slipping the supportive Nicky Ajose in. The former Manchester United trainee shaped his body perfectly to place his shot beyond a helpless Garratt. From 1-0 to 2-1 down heading into the half time interval.
A late chance though saw Pogba escape his marker with a step over but fire over the crossbar.
Crewe made a change at the break with Moore replacing Waters. Moore was quickly involved but the ball just wouldn't drop kindly for him or Pogba close to the 18-yard line. Ellis was then caught on his ankle by Assombalonga as he played a back pass to Garratt but was able to shake it off. Swanson was cautioned for not returning the ball back quickly enough for the referee's liking.
Peterborough had a good chance to extend their advantage but Assombalonga's far post header dropped short of the line and Little's follow-up effort struck Ellis square in the face. Crewe were able to clear their lines effectively. At the other end, Park, who was trying to impose himself more on the game dragged a shot wide of the mark.
Crewe equalised after Moore showed great pace to leave Swanson in his wake, he cut back to find Pogba and he quickly found Aneke inside the box. He had to stretch a little to get the ball under control but with a swift turn he was immediately on goal and before Olejnik had time to set himself he had slid it past him for his second of the afternoon.
Crewe could have taken the lead just moments later. Moore and Park combined in the centre of the pitch and they found Aneke in enough space for him to weight a pass into Pogba. The striker elected to drill his shot near post instead of far post and Olejnik made the save.
Again Crewe were caught out within two minutes of that great chance. Jon Guthrie just failed to cut out a pass from Swanson into the lively Washington and he was allowed to race into the box. Harry Davis seemed to have done enough to have manoeuvred him away from the danger zone but the former Newport forward was aware enough to wait for support and he tucked a pass back to Swanson who without breaking stride drilled his shot through Garratt for 3-2.
With Peterborough on top and breaking with real pace and purchase , it really should have been 4-2 but Washington's close range effort hit his own player Assombalonga whilst he was grounded. The initial chance had seen Garratt save brilliantly from Washington.
Ellis headed a Park free kick just wide of the mark before Uche Ikpeazu replaced Park. Pogba moved out wide with the Watford striker operating centrally with Aneke. Ikpeazu tried to impose his physical frame on the proceedings but gave away a number of cheap free-kicks. The game became littered with them and it was never that sort of game.
Rowe shot wastefully wide after a clever run before the last throw of the Crewe dice saw Vadaine Oliver replace Evans.
Crewe remained in the game but the next goal was going to be the deciding factor and following a late throw in on the left hand side, the impressive Washington got the goal his play deserved. He wriggled free before smacking an unstoppable shot past Garratt for 4-2.