A really hard working and determined display from Crewe Alexandra was eventually undone by two goals in a matter of three minutes in the second half. Crewe’s strong work ethic had contained Bradford City until the 72nd minute when the experienced Aaron McLean ghosted in to turn home a centre from Mark Yeates. With our resistance finally broken, the Bantams quickly added a second goal with Gary Liddle placing his controlled shot past Ben Garratt after Marcus Haber had managed to clear to the edge of the box following a scramble.
Crewe set up to contain Bradford, especially in the first half when employing a 3-5-2 formation but after switching to 4-3-3 in the second half following the introduction of Febian Brandy, Crewe did create two really chances that saw Chris Atkinson and young debutant George Cooper draw decent saves from Jordan Pickford.
17-year-old Cooper became the latest Academy graduate to make his full debut for the club. The Warrington-based teenager was given the nod ahead of Billy Waters for the trip to the Coral Windows Stadium. Cooper was given licence to roam behind target man Marcus Haber.
George Ray shook off his groin strain to retain his place but Steve Davis opted for a new defensive formation with Adam Dugdale and Alan Tate forming a back three with captain Matt Tootle and the on-loan Greg Leigh operating as wing-backs.
There was also a recall for Chris Atkinson in midfield with the Stoke City loan player Jamie Ness dropping to the substitutes’ bench. Jon Guthrie, Vadaine Oliver and Oliver Turton were all named on the Crewe bench alongside Ness, Waters and reserve goalkeeper Scott Shearer. The fit again Febian Brandy was also included in the squad for the first time since aggravating his calf against the MK Dons.
Crewe goalkeeper Ben Garratt was given an early introduction into the game when he was on the receiving end of an early bump from Aaron McLean after barely 30 seconds. Mclean was soon on the receiving end of a challenge himself from Dugdale and he needed treatment on his ankle.
Cooper’s first involvement saw him whip over an early cross but Crewe had not committed too many bodies into the opposition box. Almost immediately Jason Kennedy headed a Gary Liddle cross over the top of Garratt’s crossbar.
Bradford certainly applied the early pressure, forcing a number of corners and stretching the ball into wide areas to place crosses into our penalty area. The Crewe back line were generally defending well as a unit and heading most things away from danger.
On 15 minutes, Tootle thrived on the space in front of him to unleash a really good effort from 25 yards that had the Bradford goalkeeper Jordan Pickford moving quickly across his goal, but the captain’s shot was always rising to clear his crossbar.
The home side increased the pressure and after Billy Clarke had seen his headed from a Alan Sheenan free-kick deflected behind for a corner, the Bantams went extremely close to taking a 20th minute lead. The corner dropped invitingly for McLean at the far post and his close range effort beat Garratt but was miraculously cleared off the line by Grant. The alert midfielder did superbly to get his body to the powerful shot and somehow lift it over the crossbar.
When in possession, Crewe had to be more fluent and accurate when passing the ball. It was sometimes too loose for Haber or young Cooper to retain the ball in the opponents half of the pitch.
Just before the half an hour mark, Leigh repeated Grant’s heroics from another corner! This time Clarke poked an effort goalwards from Bradford’s tenth corner of the half but Leigh was there to get it off the line. In the follow up Rory McArdle fired over from six yards out when if he had got it on target it would have been 1-0. Referee Darren Deadman incorrectly awarded a corner. It was a bizarre decision to say the least and no wonder the Alex players protested.
When progressing into the Bradford half, Cooper couldn’t quite find Haber with a lay-off and Tootle found it difficult to bring down a pass from Grant on the edge of the Bradford penalty area. The Bradford defender Andrew Davies became the first player to be booked for clattering into Atkinson. From the free-kick, Tootle lifted the ball for Ray to head goalwards but his attempt lacked the power to test Pickford.
Clarke nipped between the Crewe back line but couldn’t direct his head on the Crewe goal after Sheenan had yet again provided an inch perfect cross from the left.
On 40 minutes, a clever little pass from Liddle set Kennedy on the Crewe goal but goalkeeper Ben Garratt had read the situation unfolding superbly well and he rushed out to make a very good save.
The home continued to press looking for that opening goal but Ray blocked a long range effort from Filipe Morais and Garratt was right behind a well struck shot from Kennedy.
Steve Davis made a change at half-time with Brandy replacing Tate. Crewe switched to 4-3-3 with Brandy on the left and Cooper on the right in support of Haber. That formation was also 4-4-1-1 at times with Cooper still given the freedom to try and get on the ball.
On 50 minutes, Atkinson did well to steal possession in an advanced position and his one-two with Haber allowed the attacking midfielder to race into space and force a save from Pickford at his near post. The resultant corner was cleared from danger. More promising play from the Alex saw Atkinson feed Tootle inside the Bradford box but he couldn’t quite control his cross to apply pressure on Pickford.
Phil Parkinson made a change on 58 with Kennedy making way for the former Port Vale man Billy Knott.
Knott had an effort from a Sheenan corner deflected to the other side for another corner as the volume inside Valley Parade increased. That was so nearly silenced on 68 minutes though when a switch counter-attack from the Railwaymen saw Brandy and Cooper combine to unlock the Bradford defence. Cooper initially stole the ball from Darby to find Brandy and he instantly put the teenager through on goal. His connection was good enough by Pickford was well positioned to push it away.
Crewe’s resistant was finally broken in 72nd minute after Knott poked the ball out wide to Mark Yeates and his accurate cross invited McLean to ghost in and direct it past a helpless Garratt. It was harsh on the Alex who had battled so hard to contain the Bantams for so long. Two minutes later the home side doubled their lead. Morais swung the ball inside of the box and although Haber managed to get it clear to the edge of the box, there was Liddle to place it beyond Garratt with a controlled finish.
Parkinson made his second change with Oliver McBurnie replacing McLean. Crewe also made a substitution with Turton replacing Atkinson.
With Crewe now chasing the game Waters came on for Nolan. Grant shot straight at Pickford from 25 yards out and at the other end Yeates curled a free-kick over the wall and into the gloves of Garratt.
With time running out, Brandy had a shot blocked from distance and in the follow up Turton drilled his effort straight at Pickford.
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