Crewe Alexandra’s mini-unbeaten run ended at Notts County this evening as late pressure finally told at Meadow Lane with Billy Daniels hitting a stunning volley with four minutes left.
Substitute Daniels controlled his finish to direct a cross from Blair Adams past a helpless Ben Garratt.
After somehow going into the half time interval trailing by a late penalty, it hadn’t taken Crewe long to hit back with Jamie Ness finishing off a strong run just two minutes into the second half.
The game looked like it may end in a draw but the home side applied some late pressure in the closing stages with both Kwame Thomas and Will Hayhurst wasting really good chances from within our six yard box.
Crewe’s best chance to win the game at 1-1 had fallen to the substitute Lauri Dalla Valle and he was rather unlucky to see his deflected effort just clear the far post.
A red card for Liam Noble for two bookable offences came too late to change the complexion of the game in the dying seconds.
Steve Davis named an unchanged side for the trip to Meadow Lane. Therefore, young midfielder James Jones made only his second start for the club following his full debut against Gillingham last weekend.
Chris Atkinson was recalled to the Crewe Alexandra squad ahead of Liam Nolan.
Following a tentative opening from both sides, Crewe conjured up the first real effort at goal after four minutes. After some neat footwork from Jamie Ness, he was felled some 30 yards from the Notts County goal and duly swung in the free-kick to find Alan Tate lingering at the far post.
The on-loan Swansea City defender managed to make a solid connection with his header but it wasn’t quite accurate enough to force Roy Carroll into his first save of the afternoon. The former Manchester United goalkeeper was confident enough to leave it to sail past his left hand post.
The early flow of the match continued to be interrupted with a flurry of free-kicks, either for niggly little fouls or offside decisions. On eight minutes, Ness and Nicky Ajose played a delightful one-two to release the striker on goal, but an uncharacteristic heavy touch took the ball through to Carroll. If Ajose had managed to truly get the ball under his spell, he would certainly have drawn a save from the Notts County goalkeeper or scored.
Two minutes later, Ajose was presented with an even better chance after his partner Uche Ikpeazu had fairly challenged Carroll as he came for a long ball played by Jones. With Carroll scrambling to recapture his footing, the ball broke invitingly to Ajose, but with defenders retreating to cover the empty net, the Alex striker screwed his shot agonisingly wide of the far post.
With Crewe looking the more dangerous in the early period, Ikpeazu had his first effort on goal but couldn’t keep his shot-on-the-turn down enough.
Notts County had to wait until the 16th minute to create their first real opening of the game but Garry Thompson headed over Ben Garratt’s crossbar from close range. Three minutes later, Hayden Hollis went even closer with another close range header from a corner coming from the right.
The Notts County captain Hayden Mullins was the first player to be cautioned for a trip on the rampaging Greg Leigh and Ness’ resultant free-kick was headed behind for a corner. Ikpeazu’s deft touch from the delivery nearly caught out the Notts County defence at the near post.
Ness dragged a shot wide of the mark after a burst from midfield and Ikpeazu was eventually crowded out after one of his trademark runs into the opposition box.
Hollis joined Mullins in the referee’s book for a late foul on Ness after he had laid possession off to Ikpeazu close to the half way line.
Notts County’s biggest threat continued to come from the air and Garratt was called upon to dive on a downward header from Kwame Thomas.
In first half stoppage time, Garratt was forced into his first meaningful save when he was forced to push away a powerful drive from Liam Noble but with the ball kept alive, the home side were awarded a penalty after Jon Guthrie was beaten to the ball by Thomas in the left hand channel of the box and got man rather than ball as he attempted to clear. Guthrie didn’t complain too much. Noble stepped up to give Notts County the lead with the last kick of the half.
Guthrie was replaced at the break with Adam Dugdale replacing him. Crewe came out on the front foot and after Ness had influenced the early play, the on-loan Stoke midfielder confidently unleashed an unstoppable shot from just inside the penalty area after just two minutes. It was Ness’ second goal for the club following his splendid winner against Bristol City.
Noble was booked for a foul on James Jones to become the third County player to be cautioned. Dugdale joined him after a clash with Thomas.
Thompson lashed a powerful shot inches wide from the corner of the box, but Davis had cleverly gone across to narrow his angle. It would have been difficult to have beaten Garratt from there.
On 62 minutes, the Magpies were presented with a great chance to retake the lead when Thompson once again headed over from close range after being picked out by Will Hayhurst.
The County striker couldn’t keep his header down to really test Garratt. He should have at least hit the target from the position he had stolen into. It had been a let off for the Railwaymen.
Similarly, Dugdale was relieved to see Thomas over hit a cross across our six yard box after the substitute had lost his footing on the edge of the box. Tate was also perfectly positioned to block a shot from Gary Jones.
With 20 minutes remaining, Crewe made their second change of the afternoon with Lauri Dalla Valle replacing Ajose. Full-back Baillie then tried his luck with a volley from 25 yards out but it didn’t dip quickly enough to test Carroll. Ikpeazu just couldn’t collect a pass from Ness inside the Notts County box after a really patient and positive build up from the Alex.
With 11 minutes left, a superb headed clearance from Jones sent Grant away through the middle of the pitch and he delayed enough to release Dalla Valle and after checking back, the Finn was rather unfortunate to see his deflected effort just clear the far post. It was awfully close.
With Ikpeazu tiring, young Cooper was introduced for the closing stages. At the other end, Garratt had to keep alert to tip over a cross-come-shot from Noble. From the corner, the home side had a golden chance to force home a possible late winner but Thomas got under his shot to send it sailing harmlessly over the crossbar. Moments later, winger Wayhurst should have scored but he headed wide at the far post, as Crewe wrongly appealed for offside.
That increasing pressure finally told with four minutes remaining. Gary Jones supplied full-back Blair Adams with the pass down the Crewe right and his accurate cross found substitute Billy Davies who produced a stunning volleyed finish that gave Garratt no chance.
Crewe couldn’t muster that late, real chance to salvage a point and even a late red card for Noble didn’t change that. Noble received his marching orders for a second bookable offence after catching Grant.