Ben Garratt also saved a Jose Baxter penalty to keep Crewe in the contest but Mark Howard in the Sheffield United goal was not tested as much as we would have liked. George Cooper had a first half shot saved by Howard and Febian Brandy also forced the Sheffield United goalkeeper into a save just before half time after a quick thinking free kick from Matt Tootle.
Despite losing a player, the Alex gave it a real go to try and snatch a point, but Sheffield United survived the extra ten minutes that was added following a nasty head injury to Brad Inman.
Steve Davis reverted back to a flat back four for the visit of Sheffield United this afternoon. Alan Tate was the unfortunate one to miss out to tactical reasons with 17-year-old George Cooper reinstated in an attacking midfield role.
Loan signing Danny Haynes was named on the substitutes’ bench for the second successive match after joining on a one-month emergency loan from Notts County on Tuesday evening.
Nigel Clough’s Sheffield United side made an impressive start to the game, playing at a high tempo and pressuring Crewe into surrendering possession in our half of the pitch. That early pressure nearly saw the visitors take the lead. The Sheffield United centre-half Paddy McCarthy stepped into midfield and found Jamie Murphy on the Crewe right hand side. His cross into the box found Jose Baxter with his back to goal, but the former Everton trainee turned to fire directly at Ben Garratt.
Minutes later, the Blades went even closer to breaking the deadlock when their full-back Craig Alcock struck the post after he had struck his half volley into the floor. His effort inside a crowded Crewe penalty area looped up and would have beaten Garratt if it hadn’t struck the woodwork. It was a let off for the Alex, who were finding it difficult to retain possession and muster any real passing pattern.
Anthony Grant was booked after just 10 minutes for foul on Stefan Scougall as Crewe were pinned into our half of the field. The former Sheffield United player Febian Brandy did win a header to flick Marcus Haber into the opposition penalty area but he was crowded out.
The Sheffield United pressure continued but Crewe were defending our penalty area with a gutsy resolve. Ray and Dugdale got their head to most things entering our box and Tootle was restricting the dangerous Murphy and the overlapping Bob Harris. Murphy did produce a low cross on the counter attack but it evaded everyone across the six yard box. Baxter also found some space to register a shot at Garratt with Ray getting a touch on the shot after throwing himself at the Sheffield United forward.
Young Cooper sprung into life on 36 minutes. Grant found Inman down the left hand side and his lay off to Leigh allowed the on-loan Manchester City youngster to find the teenager on the edge of the box. Cooper quickly got the ball out of his feet and from 20 yards out and his powerful shot called Mark Howard into action for the first time in the afternoon.
That chance gave Crewe a lift and we finished the first half strongly. A quick free-kick from captain Tootle close to the corner flag, found Brandy in space and his instant turn and shot forced Howard into another save underneath his crossbar.
Sheffield United began the second half in the same frame as the first. They were quickly on the front foot with Harris having an early shot blocked on the edge of the box by Ray and the same Crewe defender did well again to poke a chance away from Scougall.
The visitors had centre-half Basham booked for a foul on Grant before James Wallace curled an effort just over Ben Garratt’s crossbar from the edge of the penalty area. Baxter also fired a well-placed free-kick into a stubborn Crewe wall. The impressive Greg Leigh also did superbly well to deny Campbell-Ryce at the far post.
Sheffield United looked the more likely side to open the scoring but Crewe continued to defend resolutely. Baxter drilled a shot inches wide of the post before a good passing move from the Alex saw Inman have a shot deflected wide after he had been found by Leigh.
Steve Davis introduced some fresh legs with Jamie Ness and new loan signing Haynes replacing Haber and Brandy.
Minutes later, the Blades finally took the lead. Murphy produced a really powerful run to take on Tootle and reach the by-line and he calmly slotted the ball back for Scougall to gleefully guide it home.
A nasty clash of heads forced Inman off via a stretcher. The Sheffield United defender Basham was bandaged up but was later replaced as Nigel Clough did a treble substitution. Inman needed lengthy treatment and he was carefully taken from the field and was replaced by Billy Waters.
That stoppage seemed to affect our concentration because moments later the visitors were awarded a penalty after Ray tripped Baxter as he reacted to a cross from Alcock first. Garratt produced a stunning save to push Baxter’s spot-kick away for a corner.
Clough’s three substitutions saw Marc McNulty, Jay McEveley and Louis Reed replace Basham, Baxter and Scougall.
With the minutes ticking away, Ray was embroiled in a foot race with McNulty and after he appeared to have his heel clipped by the lively Sheffield United forward, Ray was incensed. McNulty went through on goal by was denied brilliant by Man-of-the-Match Garratt. Ray’s aggressive protest saw him shown a straight red card.
The absence of a centre-half meant a reshuffle with Leigh switching to the centre and Tootle moving to left-back. Midfielder Ollie Turton filled in at right back.
Another strong run from Murphy conjured up another chance for Campbell-Ryce but unlike Scougall he made a mess of his finish and he miscued it wide. Crewe were hanging in on there and needed that one real chance to drop.
Although a man down, Crewe kept pressing looking for an equaliser and in stoppage time, Waters shot straight at Howard after he had turned back onto his left and Grant fired over after a strong run from midfield.
With United holding on for the win, they had McNulty and Wallace booked during the ten minutes of stoppage time but they held on to secure the three points.