George Cooper, who celebrated his 18th birthday on Thursday, fired Crewe into a 19th minute lead after being picked out superbly inside a crowded penalty area by full debutant James Baillie. Defenders John Guthrie and Harry Davis both had close range chances to double our lead before the interval but were denied by Crawley’s Man-of-the-Match Jamie Ashdown.
The introduction of Matt Harrold certainly provided more of a threat for the home side in the second half but it was a prolific team-mate Izale McLeod who would yet again score against Crewe Alexandra to deny us victory. He finished superbly after Gwion Edwards had picked him out. Both sides could have won it but a draw was probably fair with Crewe on top in the first 45 minutes and the home side enjoying the better of the second period.
Steve Davis lost a number of his first team players for the trip to Crawley. Captain Matt Tootle was ruled out with flu so the right back birth went to full debutant Jamie Baillie. Alan Tate didn’t shake off a groin injury to regain his place and with George Ray suspended due to his red card last weekend against Sheffield United, it was perfect timing for Harry Davis to make his first start of the season following his knee injury. Davis had been ruled out since March. Jon Guthrie also returned to the starting line-up as Crewe reverted back to 5-2-3 with the pressing wing backs. Adam Dugdale was handed the armband in the absence of his close pal Tootle.
Brad Inman was not fit enough to travel following his head injury last week and Jamie Ness was unfortunate to pick up a calf strain when he would have been pressing for a recall.
With Anthony Grant also suspended after collating five yellow cards there was a first start for Chris Atkinson since the 2-0 defeat at Bradford. New loan signing Danny Haynes also marked his full debut for the club following on from his substitute appearance against the Blades last weekend. Marcus Haber dropped to the bench with Febian Brandy and George Cooper flanking the Notts County striker.
With such a depleted squad there were inclusions in the squad for youngsters James Jones and first timers John Johnston and Perry Ng.
Both sides soon settled into a pattern of passing the ball around in bright sunshine for November. Haynes had an early chance to go on a run down the Crawley left hand side but he was quickly crowded out as he tried to link up with Brandy.
More encouraging possession from Crewe then saw Cooper and Brandy have low shots blocked in and around the Crawley penalty area.
With a ball running loose some 30 yards from the Crewe goal, Davis had an early testing tackle with Conor Henderson and the Alex defender showed no hesitation in getting his body behind the 50/50 challenge. After seven months out it was ideal.
Crewe were pressing Crawley backwards with a real intensity and good work from Haynes and Brandy forced Keith Keane into a mistake going towards his own goal and he had to be bailed out by his goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown as the ball looped into the air after Brandy had charged down his clearance.
Crewe’s ambition in the final third finally resulted in the opening goal after 19 minutes. After collecting a pass from Oliver Turton, Cooper showed his willingness to take on opponents and after riding one challenge he sent the ball out to the supportive Baillie in space.
The wing-back calmly picked out Cooper with a low cross and the recently turned 18-year-old instantly dispatched it superbly past Ashdown. It was a wonderfully crafted team goal with debutant Baillie really assured with his delivery into a crowded penalty area and Cooper showing real quality with his finish. It was the Warrington-born forward’s second goal in senior football following his stunning free-kick against Coventry.
After taking a deserved lead, the Red Devils went close to equalising just two minutes later but Gwion Edwards headed well wide from a good position.
Danger man Izale McLeod registered Crawley’s first real effort on target after half an hour. He did superbly well to pull down a tricky ball at the far post and he was able to get a shot off before Davis could get across him, but Garratt was right behind it.
Moments later, McLeod was involved in a foot race with Dugdale through the middle but the Crewe defender won the dual with a timely sliding tackle. The bustling McLeod continued to be the main threat though and he warmed the gloves of Garratt from a tight angle after Crewe were really exposed at the back for the first time.
Guthrie flew into two heading opportunities that caused a problem, once from an Atkinson corner and then from the return cross from Brandy. He should really have scored with his third attempt from a Cooper corner from the other side. McLeod swung a leg as the low cross but completely missed it and Guthrie couldn’t believe his luck at the far post as the ball dropped invitingly for him.
The Alex defender got a good enough contact on his shot from no more than a few years out but couldn’t quite believe that Ashdown had got enough on it to flick it up and over his crossbar. The Alex players couldn’t believe it wasn’t 2-0.
With four minutes of the second half, another well worked corner saw Guthrie win the first header and as it dropped to him, Davis had a chance to mark his return to action with a goal. His powerful shot was blocked by the grounded Ashdown and his second hit his defensive partner Dugdale close to the line and would have been ruled out for offside anyhow.
The first half ended with Keane trying an ambitious shot from 25 yards that was always rising over Garratt crossbar.
John Gregory made the first change at half-time with Matt Harrold replacing Henderson. Crewe were soon on the front foot again though and a promising break so nearly saw Haynes play Cooper in on goal and the covering Joe Walsh had to react to divert the ensuing danger.
More concerted pressure from the Railwaymen then forced Lanre Oyebanjo into an acrobatic clearance from a corner after Dugdale had sprung into the air close to Ashdown.
Crawley were certainly applying a different approach with the height of Harrold but Crewe were defending their penalty area reasonably well. Guthrie cleared from Edwards as he threatened to get in behind on a rare occasion. Garratt also collected a low cross from Lewis Young after he had been found intelligently by Keane running into the right channel of the Crewe penalty area.
Just before the hour mark the lively Cooper threaded Brandy through but his shot took a deflection off of Walsh to take any power from it and it was easily gathered by Ashdown.
Crawley began to impose themselves more as an attacking threat but their crosses aimed at Harrold were often too high over over-hit.
On 65 minutes, a superb solo run from the positive Brandy forced Ashdown into a near post save. Brandy carried the ball an awful long way before getting a shot off from a tight angle. With the game opening up, Baillie did well to hold up the pacey Young but the second ball found McLeod at the far post and Garratt had to alert to make the save low down.
Three minutes later, Crawley drew level. The home side hounded possession from Leigh and Turton on the edge of the box and Edwards collected the loose ball to take on Turton on the outside. His pulled back cross found McLeod who placed his unstoppable shot into the top corner. It was a messy goal for Crewe to concede though with no-one really taking decisive action to clear the ball.
Cooper got another of his trademark free-kicks on target but Ashdown was equal to it. Garratt was likewise to a shot from McLeod.
Steve Davis made his first change on 74 minutes with another debutant James Jones given his first taste of first-team football in place of Haynes. Crewe needed another body in midfield and operated with Cooper and Brandy as a front two.
Jones quickly got on the ball and showed great confidence collecting a pass, spinning and hitting a cross field pass over to Leigh.
Dugdale made two tremendous headers inside the penalty area to deny Harrold a clean header at goal. One inside the six yard box was exceptional.
At the other end, Cooper nearly sniffed out a goal when he tried to predict Ashdown’s clearance but both players seemed to miss the ball and the ball ran away from the Crewe forward.
In the closing stages, Crawley looked the more likely side to go on and win the game. Keane drilled a shot through a crowd of players that Garratt did well to view and make the save.
Edwards couldn’t keep his shot down after Garratt’s punch didn’t travel far enough from Keane’s clipped in free-kick.
With minutes left on the clock, young Callum Saunders was introduced for Brandy. Cooper also made way for Haber. Crewe were certainly hanging on in the last few minutes with both Dugdale and Davis continuing to get their head to most things going into our box.
McLeod had a late header to win the game but under pressure from the excellent Dugdale, he could only flash his effort wide.