The Alex worked hard to try and contain the League’s best side but with six minutes left on the clock, the skilful Jay Emmanuel Thomas waltzed through to round Paul Rachubka and seal the win with a superb solo goal.
As an attacking force, Crewe’s genuine chances were few and far between with Marcus Haber having two headers and Jamie Ness drilling a couple of long range efforts over the top. It was a tough evening for the Alex against a superior side and the Bristol City goalkeeper Frank Fielding had too much of an easy night.
Uche Ikpeazu started at Ashton Gate following his return to Crewe Alexandra on loan. He partnered Marcus Haber up front with leading scorer Nicky Ajose dropping back down to the substitutes’ bench. Steve Davis also altered positions with James Jones operating at left wing-back and Ollie Turton at right wing back.
Jon Guthrie moved back into back three alongside George Ray and Harry Davis, thus freeing up Alan Tate to move into a midfield holding role.
The runaway league leaders Bristol City enjoyed an early burst from Luke Freeman but after he had found Aaron Wilbraham on the edge of the Crewe penalty shot his firm shot was blocked by George Ray. The Crewe centre-half also did well early on to cut out a cross from the pacy full-back Mark Little.
After a good aerial win from Marcus Haber, Anthony Grant had a swipe at a shot before Ikpeazu was forced wide and couldn’t find a Crewe body with his low cross.
As you would expect, the home side began to pop the ball around with urgency and confidence but Crewe were keeping a stringent shape to contain them early on.
On 16 minutes, Tate did superbly well to halt Jay Emmanuel-Thomas at the expense of a corner. From Freeman’s excellent delivery to the far post, Greg Cunningham forced Rachubka into a reflex point back save. The Crewe goalkeeper did well to get something on it and force it over.
From the resultant corner, again struck by Freeman from the left, the towering Aden Flint was denied by another agile stop from Rachubka. He somehow got a strong hand to his header to push it away and Grant was able to finally hook it clear from danger. Crewe had survived two early scares thanks to Rachubka’s shot stopping ability.
Crewe continued to work hard to pressurise when Bristol were in possession and when we had the ball we were attempting to hit Ikpeazu over the head of Flint. Turton, who scored his first goal of the season at Preston at the weekend, couldn’t keep his shot down after the ball had dropped invitingly to him after Frank Fielding had come to punch a free kick from Jamie Ness.
The home side took the lead on 32 minutes with the influential Luke Ayling providing an inch perfect cross for Wilbraham to poach his 17th goal of the season. It was a wonderful tempting delivery across the six-yard box and the Bristol City captain was handily placed to give Rachubka no chance. From a Crewe perspective it will be interesting to see again, if it could have been cut out before it reached Wilbraham.
Rachubka did well again to dive and intercept another dangerous cross from Joe Bryan, this time from the Crewe right hand side.
With Freeman and Ayling beginning to have a bigger influence on the contest, Crewe were spending more time in their own half, but Ikpeazu showed great strength at times to get us up the pitch. That will be a plus going forward.
Bristol were so ruthless on the break and Ray did well to deny Emmanuel-Thomas a free run at goal but his block conceded a corner. Crewe had struggled with them all evening and this was no exception as the towering Flint rose highest to head past Rachubka on 42 minutes. It was too straight forward and Crewe had another mountain to climb. It was the defender’s 9th goal of the season and their expertise from set-pieces had paid off again.
Ikpeazu was booked for dissent by referee Trevor Kettle just before the interval.
The Robins began on the front foot again as the second half kicked off with Ayling slipping a pass down the side of Turton and Bryan forced Rachubka into another smart save. The loose ball was then deflected into the side netting for an early corner. Crewe dealt with that one from Freeman with more purpose.
Wilbraham was inches away from making it 3-0 as he stretched for a low cross provided by the excellent Ayling. He couldn’t have been any closer to applying a decisive touch inside the six-yard box.
On 51 minutes, Haber headed a diagonal cross from Tate but it was fairly comfortable for Fielding but it was an effort on goal from the Alex.
After Ray was caught in possession in the right back spot by the eager Korey Smith, his low cross found Emmanuel-Thomas, who instantly found Freeman on the edge of the box. The former Arsenal trainee wriggled free into space and forced the Crewe goalkeeper into a fine one handed save.
Ikepeazu showed great power to carry the ball almost 40 yards and he was fouled as he got his shot off. Ness bent the ball over the crossbar and into the expanding new stand behind that particular goal. Ikpeazu, who has not played a lot of football of late, was withdrawn on 67 minutes with Nicky Ajose replacing him.
Good work from Haber down the Crewe right hand side almost found Ajose with an early opportunity but Crewe were crowded out and had to go back out of the box to come in. Anthony Grant produced a shot that was deflected into the path of Little and he was able to turn and clear the danger.
Ray blocked an effort from Emmanuel-Thomas on the edge of the box as Crewe continued to hang in the game. Crewe made their second change of the evening with Chris Atkinson replacing Grant.
Bristol City also had made their first change with Little making way for James Tavernier. Emmanuel-Thomas went close to making it a far more comfortable final 15 minutes for the home side but he put a cross from Cunningham a yard wide.
With one eye on Wembley on Sunday, the excellent Freeman was given a rest with Kieran Agard handed a late run-out. Crewe introduced Liam Nolan for Tate with ten minutes left.
Good work from substitutes Atkinson and Ajose teed up Ness with a chance from 25 yards, but the on-loan Stoke midfielder drilled his shot over the crossbar.
With six minutes remaining, Emmanuel-Thomas went for the Crewe jugular. He collected the ball just inside the Crewe penalty area, waltzing through our rearguard with a shimmy and skill and he rounded Rachubka before slotting home the third.
With the game now firmly over for the closing minutes, Wilbraham was rested for Scott Wagstaff. Emmanuel-Thomas nearly grabbed a second goal for himself but Rachubka stood firm to fist out his effort in the dying seconds.