Crewe gifted Port Vale a way back into the game with Ray tucking back Jordan Slew for a penalty on 32 minutes. Slew had his original spot-kick saved by Ben Garratt, but he tucked home the rebound to make it game on again.
Port Vale certainly dominated the ball in the second half but couldn’t force home an equaliser with Garratt saving superbly to deny Pope twice. The Alex centre-halves stood firm throughout and Tootle led by example as captain with a last ditch tackle to deny substitute Louis Dodds and Pope. He also cleared one from the line after a mass scramble in front of Garratt.
Crewe Alexandra made three changes to the side that lost to Rochdale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in our last outing at Gresty Road. Ben Garratt returned in goal for Scott Shearer for the visit of our near neighbours from Staffordshire. George Ray (Wales) and Marcus Haber (Canada) returned from International duty to start, as did midfielder Liam Nolan (Northern Ireland).
Out of the starting line-up along with Shearer went Chris Atkinson and Brad Inman. They started on the substitutes’ bench along with the fit again Jamie Ness. The Stoke City recovered from his hamstring injury to take his place in the Crewe Alexandra squad for derby day.
Steve Davis lined up with 4-1-2-1-2 formation with Billy Waters operating behind the front two of Vadaine Oliver and Marcus Haber.
The visitors’ from Burslem named four former players in their starting line-up. Full-back Adam Yates was recalled by Micky Adams and there were starts for Michael O’Connor, Tom Pope and winger Byron Moore.
The local derby began at its usual frantic pace and O’Connor was booked in the opening minutes for catching Anthony Grant.
Crewe Alexandra got a dream start though after just six minutes via a Matt Tootle free-kick into the penalty area. Tootle’s accurate delivery towards Haber was won superbly by the Canadian International and the well positioned George Ray got there first to touch it past the onrushing Port Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal for his first goal at senior level.
The early goal certainly injected some confidence into the Crewe team. The energetic Grant didn’t quite get enough to put Waters through on a swift counter attack as we went in search of a second goal.
Port Vale did begin to get a foothold in the game though as an attacking threat. Jon Guthrie had to be well placed at the far post to hook away a dangerous cross from Mark Marshall before it reached Pope. Following a strong run from midfielder Chris Lines, Slew got a shot off that was well collected by Garratt.
Richard Duffy was booked for an off the ball tussle with Oliver close to the touchline in front of the travelling Port Vale contingent before Crewe doubled their lead on 19 minutes.
It was another well-structured goal as Waters fed Tootle on the over-lap and his excellent cross to the far post was powerfully headed home by Oliver for his first goal of the season. Oliver headed it back from-where-it-had-came to give Chris Neil no chance of saving it.
Almost immediately from the re-start, Moore was allowed to carry the ball forward before his shot was blocked by Guthrie.
Crewe excelled in the first period and went so close to making it 3-0 on 26 minutes. Tootle struck another perfect free-kick that caused havoc inside the Port Vale penalty area and Waters stole in on the blind side to head against the crossbar. An inch lower and it would have been a third goal and arguably at that stage, Crewe would have deserved it.
Moments later, Adam Yates had to force a Waters effort from the line and Oliver couldn’t keep his follow-up header down as Vale struggled to contain our vibrant forward play.
Port Vale were gifted a passage back into the game though when Ray tucked Slew back after he had tricked his way past the Crewe centre-half close to the by-line. The Alex were angered that the offence had occurred originally outside the box before the Vale striker went over and the coaches were unsure if it had been a Vale throw-in in the build-up. Slew saw his spot-kick saved by the agile Garratt but the Crewe goalkeeper didn’t have too much luck as it went straight back into the striker’s path and he tapped home for 2-1.
Marshall was booked for persistent fouling after catching the influential Tootle and another cross from the right-back picked out Oliver but on this occasion he couldn’t generate enough power to test Neal.
The first half ended with another flowing move from the home side seeing Haber cleverly heading down a Waters pass into Tootle’s path on the run and his instant shot cleared the crossbar. His performance deserved a goal but he will settle for two match winning assists!
In first half stoppage time, Neal was called upon to tip over a well struck shot from Vadaine Oliver. It was a wonderful effort and for all our dominance there was only one goal in it at the break.
The second half started with Haber trying to find his strike partner with a knockdown but slowly by surely, Port Vale began to get a grip of the possession. Pope drew an early save from Garratt before Grant shot over on the break after he and Waters broke with pace.
Haber did well to touch the ball past McGivern on the touchline and his low cross was destined for a well-placed Waters until it took a wicked deflection and Yates had to react well to turn a spinning ball behind for a corner.
Similarly at the other end, Guthrie did well to turn a cross from Dickinson behind with Moore well poised. On his return to Gresty Road, Moore also had a shot saved by the assured Garratt.
Port Vale’s tempo and determined to push forward continued to push the Railwaymen back, deep into their own half. The Crewe back line defended the penalty box well though and restricted the visitors to shots from distance or headers from Pope that were too far out to really trouble Garratt. Winger Marshall shot straight at Garratt and Pope couldn’t generate enough power on a header as he out-jumped Dugdale for once. The excellent Slew also drilled a shot just wide from 20 yards.
With Port Vale on top, Crewe made the first change with Brad Inman replacing Oliver, but it was still Vale looking the more likely to score the next goal in a thrilling derby game. Turton did superbly to apply a block on a shot from Marshall and that resolute defending paid off.
Micky Adams made a double change with Ben Williamson and Louis Dodds replacing Slew and Moore. Dodds’ first contribution saw him head a Duffy free-kick a yard wide.
It was backs-against-the-wall stuff at times, with Tootle clearing a high ball and Garratt tipping over a Pope header with amazingly agile.
The hard working Haber was tiring and had to be replaced by Greg Leigh and, Waters, who had put in a shift made way for Atkinson.
Grant worked his socks off and won a couple of free-kicks deep in the Vale half of the pitch as we tried to play the clock down. It was a long second half but the Alex held on to record that first league win of the season.