Goals from Duggy and Pogba safeguard Crewe's League One status
Crewe Alexandra produced one of their finest home performances of the entire season to defeat promotion bound Preston North End 2-1 and secure their place in League One. A goal in each half from defender Adam Dugdale and forward Mathias Pogba gave Crewe the win they needed to make sure we stayed above the drop zone. It was Crewe’s first home win since 1st February and was thoroughly deserved. Tranmere Rovers and Carlisle couldn't find the wins they needed, and a draw for Notts County at Oldham means Crewe end the season in 19th place on 51 points.
A late John Welsh half volley from the edge of the Crewe box in stoppage time made it an anxious last few minutes, but with Tranmere also trailing at Bradford it began to filter through that the Alex would be safe.
It could have been even more comfortable for Crewe with Pogba unable to convert a superb cross from Byron Moore with his head and substitute Chuks Aneke seeing a sublime chip be turned onto the crossbar by Preston goalkeeper Delcan Rudd. It would have been a stunning third goal.
Crewe Alexandra boss Steve Davis named an unchanged side for the visit of Preston North End and the return of top scorer Chuks Aneke from suspension meant there was no place on the bench for Brad Inman and George Evans. AJ Leitch-Smith returned to the squad after being spare man at Bristol City last weekend.
Despite so much riding on the occasion, Crewe settled into their stride quickly and began passing the ball around confidently against a Preston side who started the day in third place. An early interception and progressive run from Oliver Turton lifted the excellent Alex crowd even further and only a timely interception from Jack Wing prevented a low Moore cross from reaching Uche Ikpeazu.
Another probing run from captain Matt Tootle then saw him reach the by-line and after he had calmly cut back, his shot was superbly blocked by the covering King and the ball spun behind for a corner.
Jon Guthrie took the resultant corner from the right hand side and Adam Dugdale pulled off at the far post to jump over his marker Joe Garner and power a header past Declan Rudd. It was Dugdale’s first goal of the season for Crewe and his first since he scored as a Tranmere Rovers player back in September. It was Dugdale’s first goal for the Railwaymen since the first leg of the League Two play-offs against Southend United. Time is everything.
Preston tried to hit back almost immediately through Neil Kilkenny but Liam Nolan did well to block his shot on the edge of the box. From a Paul Gallagher corner, Bailey Wright headed just inches over the bar.
Just after the 20-minute mark, Crewe felt they should have had a penalty when Moore raced through and appeared have his trailing leg swept from under him as he tried to turn back on his himself. Referee Haines waved away the appeals but a good start to the game then saw the strength of Ikpeazu hold off the intentions of Wright and poke an effort wide.
Crewe were certainly on top and looking the more likely to score again and at the other end, the superb centre-halves Ellis and Dugdale continued to head the ball from our box. A cross from Wiseman reached Gallagher’s chest at the far post but captain Tootle got across to block his shot with his heal.
Garner then looped a header over the top of the crossbar as Preston really began to impose themselves on the game. Preston’s best spell of the game came as we approached half-time but Dugdale did well again to block a shot from Kilkenny and the same midfielder shot a yard over from distance.
The start of the second half saw young goalkeeper Ben Garratt produce a stunning save to keep Crewe in front. Garner also connected on the half volley from a Wiseman cross but he couldn’t quite get it on target to trouble Garratt.
Just as it appeared as though Preston were beginning to step up a gear, Crewe conjured up a wonderful second goal. Moore, who was excellent throughout with his probing runs, found Turton and he in turn found Ikpeazu.
The powerful striker, who had been a real nuisance all afternoon decided to take on Wright and reach the by-line and his simple pull back gave Pogba a tap in. He was there at the right time to guide his shot past Rudd and give Crewe a real cushion.
in the play-off places. thThe goal prompted a triple substitution from Preston with Beavon, Kilkenny and Holmes making way for Kevin Davies, Alan Browne and Chris Humprey. Preston were still chasing a league position and didn’t particularly want to finish 5
Crewe and Pogba could have sealed it when Guthrie found the run of Moore with a visionary outside of the boot into Moore and his accurate cross should have been headed in at the far post by Pogba but he didn’t connect right and his downward header didn’t trouble Rudd at all.
Preston continued to push forward looking for a lifeline. Gallagher shot over the bar and substitute Brown shot straight at Garratt after twisting and turning on the edge of the box.
Crewe continued to be a threat at set plays and Guthrie’s delivery had been superb. Ikpeazu got a header on target that was well held by Rudd before Pogba made way for Aneke with 16 minutes left.
Aneke nearly celebrated his return from suspension with a late contender for goal of the season. Ikpeazu showed great strength again to hold play up thus allowing Turton to make progress into the box and he managed to poke it through to Aneke, who without hesitating flicked an almost inch perfect chip that Rudd did exceedingly well to tip onto the crossbar. It would have been a wonderful goal.
Another effort didn’t quite see a scramble drop in favour of Ikpeazu inside a crowded penalty area before Gallagher again tried his luck from 20 yards. Ikpeazu was replaced by AJ Leitch-Smith for the closing stages.
Ellis and Dugdale continued to head the danger away and Garner couldn’t get another effort on target as Crewe limited the visitors to shots from distance.
With news coming through that Tranmere were losing at home to Bradford, it became a little more comfortable but that quickly changed when Preston’s John Welsh shot past Garratt in stoppage time with a controlled half volley.
Crewe had to defend a late free-kick going into our box but we deservedly held on to claim the three points we need.