Crewe Alexandra’s three match winning streak came to an end in the final minute of a hard fought encounter at the Keepmoat Stadium. A last minute strike from Doncaster Rovers midfielder Richie Wellens was rough justice on a Crewe side who had worked tirelessly to try and keep the home side out in the second half.
Crewe had led at the break thanks to a well worked corner, which saw Alan Tate flick on at the near post for George Ray to guide home his second goal of the season. The Alex created two more great chances in the first period with both Nicky Ajose and Marcus Haber denied by Stephen Bywater.
Doncaster certainly stepped up their performance in the second half and drew level through Dean Furman just after the hour mark before Wellens’ dramatic winner.
Steve Davis had the luxury of naming an unchanged side for the re-arranged trip to Doncaster Rovers with Marcus Haber again partnering the in-form Nicky Ajose in the Alex attack. The original fixture was postponed due to Doncaster’s involvement in the FA Cup and ironically if the game had been played in early January then Uche Ikpeazu would surely have been lining up for us.
Instead, the on-loan Watford teenager was in the starting line-up for Paul Dickov’s side this evening after he managed to shake off a slight hamstring strain.
Both sides soon settled into a passing rhythm but the first glimpse of Ikpeazu saw him create the first decent chance of the game in the opening five minutes. His cut back from the edge of the penalty area found Paul Keegan but after acquiring a decent touch, the midfielder couldn’t keep his shot down to test Ben Garratt.
A really bright and inventive move from the Railwaymen saw Alan Tate, Ollie Turton and then Haber combine down the Doncaster left hand side. The target man flicked Jamie Ness in behind and his attempted chip had to be tipped over by Stephen Bywater. Ness took the resulting corner and from the near post flick on from Tate, George Ray stabbed it home at the far post for his second goal of the season. His last come against Port Vale in the first derby encounter in September. It was a fantastic start from the set-piece.
On 10 minutes, a forceful run from the left wing back, saw him carry the ball deep into the Doncaster half of the pitch. He was entitled to get a shot off but instead elected to try and find Ajose. The striker took a touch before his drive was blocked.
In reply, the Doncaster centre-half and captain Andy Butler drilled a shot through a crowd that Garratt had to watch carefully to collect. On 16 minutes, a swift break from the home side found Nathan Tyson down the Crewe right and he was able to swing over a dangerous looking cross that Dean Furman that seemed to strike Harry Davis to divert it away from goal. Ikpeazu then spun and fired straight at Garratt from the edge of the box. Ray made a superbly timed challenge to halt the run of Ikpeazu.
Another Crewe corner caused havoc again and although it was cleared to the edge of the box, the experienced Alan Tate returned it with interest and the elusive Ajose had found himself on side in enough space to try and lob Bywater from an acute angle. The rebound came back to him but from an even tight angle he couldn’t squeeze it in.
More Crewe pressure nearly told though a minute later, a Jones cross from the left hand side was flicked on by Harry Davis and Haber was denied a goal in successive games by hitting Bywater from the edge of the six yard box. To be fair to the Canadian, he had a trio of bodies around him as he got his shot off after originally using his chest to bring it down.
Tyson, who seemed to be clutching his arm after a bad fall, spun and lifted a shot wide as Dickov’s side tried to draw level before the half-time interval. He also tried to bundle his way through with brute force after neatly collecting a pass from Kyle Bennett but a combination of Turton and Ray got enough of a contact on it to take it through to Garratt.
With the first half drawing to a close, Ikpeazu could only direct a header wide of the mark and Bennett drove a shot into the side of Davis’s head.
Doncaster re-appeared for the second half and as expected began to dominate more of the possession in our half of the pitch, but a well organised Crewe back line continued to defend our box with real conviction.
Crewe had to play more on the break and the work ethic and pressurising was extremely high. Tyson, who looked Doncaster Rovers’ main threat pulled away at the far post on 53 minutes but could only place his downward header into the gloves of the well positioned Garratt.
The Railwaymen’s first real attack of the second half saw more creativity from Turton down the right hand and his accurate cross was met by the towering Haber and his goal bound effort had Bywater scrambling to try and keep it out at the foot of his post.
Just before the hour mark, Ikpeazu showed his strength on the edge of the box, to hold off the intentions of Davis, spin and hit the base of the post. It was certainly the closet the home side had come to scoring a goal but the pressure was beginning to build.
Tate was then booked for impeding Tyson as he tried to latch onto his own back header but the Doncaster striker had gone to ground a little easily. The free kick was whipped in to the far post and after Ikpeazu had won the initial header, it was a scrambled home from close range by Dean Furman on 62 minutes.
Doncaster continued with the pressure and moments later, Tyson drilled a superb effort just wide of the target. He felt it had taken a deflection on the way through. Edna Stevens also had a shot from the edge of the penalty area that took a nick on its way through to the Alex goalkeeper.
With 18 minutes remaining, Steve Davis made a double substitution with Liam Nolan and Lauri Dalla Valle replacing James Jones and Ajose. The former Alex man Ikpeazu made way for Curtis Main. Dalla Valle was instantly knocked from behind by Butler and needed treatment.
Five minutes later, Garratt produced a quite stunning save to somehow claw out a flick from Main. It looked a sure goal but the agile Garratt stretched out an arm to get his fingertips to it.
Doncaster made another change with Abdul Razak replacing Bennett.
Crewe had not retained possession well enough at times in the second half to make too many inroads into the Doncaster half and it became a battle to try and keep the ball as far from our goal as possible.
Dalle Valle, clearly troubled by that head injury was replaced by George Cooper. The Alex teenager had an early run but with too many bodies in front of him he could only run into traffic.
With three minutes left on the clock, Main whistled a really good effort that dipped dangerously, and just about cleared Garratt’s crossbar.
Crewe had done a considerable amount of chasing throughout the second half and in the final minute, the home side grabbed a late winner. A tiring Alex just couldn’t get close enough as Main and Reece Wabara combined to lay the ball to Richie Wellens and he bend a superb shot past Garratt.
There was still enough stoppage time to see Cooper nearly create a late chance for Haber and at the other end, substitute Razak went awfully close to making it 3-1 but his shot was deflected just wide.