Crewe Alexandra once again overcame an half-time 1-0 deficit to win for a six straight time in Colchester. Second half goals from youngster James Jones, Nicky Ajose and Anthony Grant put Crewe firmly in the driving seat in Essex.
The Alex never do anything so straight forward though and after not dealing well enough from a corner, the U’s substitute Jack Marriott made it an anxious last five minutes when he converted past Garratt from close range.
The home side took the lead in first half stoppage time when Chris Porter stole in behind the Alex defence to fire powerfully past Garratt. It had been a fairly even half and had needed a slight slip under foot from George Ray to see the deadlock broken.
Crewe came out with a real desire to take the game to the home side and three really worked goals looked to have sealed the three points until Marriott late entrance back into the game. Crewe had to survive some late scares with some corners and high balls going into our box but we saw it through for a second successive away success following the 1-0 win at the Vale.
Crewe Alexandra manager Steve Davis made one change to his starting line-up for the trip to Essex with Ollie Turton replacing James Baillie at right wing-back. The versatile Turton had been involved in every game at some stage during the season until he was unused substitute against the MK Dons last weekend. He had previously lost his starting place in midfield due to the emergence of 18-year-old James Jones.
Lauri Dalle Valle was named in the starting line-up for the second successive game as Davis again tried him in unison with leading scorer Nicky Ajose.
Alan Tate was deployed in more a midfield sitting role than in central defence and that allowed Jamie Ness to concentrate more on trying to find the front two rather than defensive duties.
Ben Garratt was given an early touch of the ball after the Colchester United left winger Sammie Szmodics delivered across the six yard box. Within the opening two minutes, the Alex Captain Harry Davis was booked for catching Szomdics with a challenge.
Colchester United certainly started on the front foot with George Ray having to come across to halt a run in behind from Chris Porter and the same player had to throw himself in front of a shot from Sanchez Watt after he was allowed to carry the ball an awfully long way into our box. Porter also flashed a good chance wide after being granted too much space.
After an indifferent start from the Alex they settled down into a period of good possession in front of the U’s box but Ness just tried to force the issue with an over-hit pass aimed for the overlapping run of Greg Leigh.
A forceful run from Ness on 15 minutes resulted in him firing into the side netting. It was a decent effort from the on-loan Stoke man but if he had been able to have seen him at the far post, the unmarked Ajose would have perhaps been the better option on this occasion. Anthony Grant also fired wide after another promising interchange of passing from the visitors.
When Crewe got on the ball they were looking neat and tidy in possession but were just in need of that final quality, penetrating pass for the runs of Ajose and Dalla Valle.
On 20 minutes, the alert Ajose was inches away from connecting with a Ness free-kick but it just had enough momentum on it to carry through to goalkeeper Sam Walker.
A lively game ebbed and flowed and it was Colchester’s turn to apply some pressure, but Ray was well placed to beat Porter to a cross from Sean Clohessey and he was on hand again to cut out a cross from Watt after a break had promised much down the Crewe left.
At the other end, Grant played Ajose in down the right channel of the box and his instant cross was just missed on the run by the supportive James Jones. Ajose was also unlucky to just overrun the ball out after he had touched it beyond Walker.
In first half stoppage time, Colchester finally broke the deadlock. Lauri Dalle Valle was sloppy with a pass that should have found Ajose and from the surrender of possession, Ray, who had hardly put a foot wrong all afternoon stooped down to head a clearance and temporarily lost his footing at the crucial moment to allow Porter to steal in behind him. Before Davis could move across, the U’s forward had spun to hit a shot past a helpless Garratt. It was virtually the final touch of the half.
An early break from the Alex saw Ness feed Ajose down the Colchester left. He collected it with confident before immediately looking his strike partner Dalla Valle. The Finn reached the accurate cross first but under severe pressure couldn’t keep it down enough to trouble Walker.
Eight minutes into the second period and young Jones went awfully close to netting his first senior goal for the club even before he did, but his shot from no more than eight yards out took a wicked deflected off Alex Wynter and cleared the crossbar for a corner. Moments later, a growing-in-confidence Jones shot just wide with an ambitious effort from 20 yards out.
Tom Eastman was cautioned for fouling Grant as Crewe attempted to get on another counter attack from within our own half of the pitch.
Porter went awfully close to grabbing his and Colchester’s second goal after he was presented with a stray pass, but on this occasion he hit the side netting with a powerful drive.
Crewe’s second half pressure paid off in the 69th minute. Ajose did brilliantly to twist and turn his way past Wynter before his clipped cross to the far post was laid off intelligently by Dalle Valle and young Jones rushed onto it to slide his past Walker for his first ever goal in the professional game. It was a really composed finish from the Academy graduate. Soon after the hard working Dalle Valle made way for Marcus Haber.
On 74 minutes another well worked move from the Alex saw us take the lead in Essex. Jones did superbly to pinch possession to shift it to Ness. He instantly found Grant in space and his inch perfect pass split the Colchester defence to find Ajose. His first touch was sublime and his second gave Walker absolutely not chance. It was a clinical finish to take him to seven goals for the campaign.
After seeing the lead slip away, Colchester made a change of their own with Sanchez Watt making way for the on-loan Jack Marriott.
It didn’t have the desired effect because with eight minutes remaining Grant fired home a third for the Railwaymen. Leigh’s elected to go with a long throw in and Haber did exceeding well to win it ahead of Eastman and his dangerous knock down was swiftly tucked away by Grant on the turn.
Marriott did inject some life into the Colchester attack and he gave Tony Humes’s side a lifeline with five minutes remaining. Crewe didn’t deal at all well with a straight forward corner, allowing the ball to drop to the U’s substitute and amongst the melee, he turned sharply to fire home. Garratt, again, had no chance.
In an attempt to salvage something from the game, the home side applied some concerted pressure, forcing a number of corners. Garratt did well when he came to collect a couple under pressure.
With the official awarding five minutes of stoppage time, Crewe were having to defend to protect the advantage. The home side’s best chance came from a very late free-kick from Eastman but he could only curl it over.