Preston’s master marksmen Joe Garner scored four times at Deepdale to condemn Crewe to another away defeat and the Railwaymen found it difficult to contain their forward line all afternoon to end up losing 5-1 against League One’s in-form side.
Jermaine Beckford added a fifth goal on 82 minutes, finally getting the goal that his work ethic had probably deserved.
Crewe had been in the game as a contest at 2-1 after Ollie Turton had latched onto a through ball from Marcus Haber to score his first goal of the season before the interval but there was no containing Garner in the second period.
Left back Greg Leigh failed to shake off a knock sustained in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Scunthorpe United, so Jon Guthrie showed his versatility by switching to the left back position.
George Ray returned from the bruised ribs to re-gain his place at centre-half. Alan Tate played just in front of a back four.
New loan signing Uche Ikpeazu was named on the substitutes’ bench after only rejoining the squad yesterday. Marcus Haber retained his place after scoring in the home victory over Scunthorpe United.
Crewe had to deal with an early free-kick from Paul Gallagher but after George Ray had stuck his head in the way of the delivery, Paul Rachubka came out to claim it confidently.
After six minutes, Crewe conjured their first real opening. A purposeful run from Ollie Turton down the Preston left hand side and after reaching the by-line he chipped a cross to the far post that Haber headed goalwards. Preston defender Bailey Wright was able to hook the ball away to the edge of the box, but Anthony Grant quickly shifted it on to Jamie Ness. His smart turn allowed him to prize a sight at goal but Sam Johnstone was right behind his well struck effort.
That half chance from the Alex seemed to propel Preston to another level. Moments after Ness’ effort, Paul Gallagher found himself one-on-one with Rachubka. The Alex stopper stayed up well enough to make a smart save.
The pressure from the home side continued to intensify and after James Jones had not applied enough distance on his defensive header, Daniel Johnson showed great composure to skip past the challenge but his shot rifled off the post.
The opening goal of the game duly arrived in the 10th minute. Crewe failed to win an aerial battle on the edge of the semi-circle and the ball dropped invitingly to the prolific Joe Garner, who after being able to carry it too far was allowed to dispatch it accurately past Rachubka and into the bottom right hand corner. The Alex defence will be disappointed to have granted Garner too much time and space to get his shot off.
A strong run from Callum Robinson nearly led for a second goal for the home side but his low cross ran straight across the six-yard box with the flying Jermaine Beckford just failing to apply a decisive touch.
At the other end, a searching pass from Ness nearly saw Ajose through but the onrushing Johnstone’s came well out of his penalty area to head for touch. It was a good decision from the Preston goalkeeper.
On 24 minutes, Simon Grayson’s side created that second goal through that man Garner. In the build up, Ray loosely gave the ball away to Gallagher and after getting the ball out of his feet he delivered a superb cross to the far post where Garner had pulled off to nod home. The goal had come just as Crewe had begun to enjoy some possession in the Preston half of the pitch.
On the half an hour mark, Rachubka had to be alert to a shot of target from Robinson but he managed to push it behind for a corner. From the resultant set-piece, a mass scramble ensued after Beckford was allowed to turn and get a shot off that Grant did well to remove from the line.
On 34 minutes, Crewe were handed a lifeline back into the game thanks to the very forward Turton. Haber did superbly well to get a grip of possession and his clever pass through to the advanced right-back saw him one-on-one with Johnstone. Turton’s low shot squirmed past the Preston goalkeeper and it went in off the post for 2-1.
Johnson dragged a shot wide of the mark before Crewe survived a penalty shout after it appeared that Davis had put his arms around Garner as they tussled at the far post following a cross from Scott Laird. The referee waved away the appeals.
Just before the half time whistle, Crewe conjured up a decent chance to draw level. Turton and Jones were involved down the right and after a cross was swung in, Ajose neatly flicked it on. It evaded Wright to find Haber but from an acute angle he could only force Johnstone into a save and the ball was cleared.
Beckford was presented with an early chance in the second half but after evading the offside trap, he just couldn’t get the ball under control in front of Rachubka.
The Alex goalkeeper was also called into action on 50 minutes after Crewe somehow led Preston play their way off the touchline to find Johnson unopposed. He was allowed to enter the Crewe penalty area and force Rachubka into a save to his left.
On 54 minutes, Preston went awfully close to increasing their lead to two goals. Beckford once again broke clear of the Crewe backline to face Rachubka and he clipped a delicate chip over the goalkeeper and only a superb clearance from Davis prevented it from closing the line. In the follow up, Gallagher’s drilled cross just missed Garner’s head.
A minute later, Crewe broke up the pitch and looked to have found an equaliser when Ajose cut the ball back for Haber to slot home from close range. The referee appeared to award the goal but was made aware of the assistant’s flag by the Preston players and he disallowed the goal for a tug on a shirt by Haber on Bailey. It is an incident certainly worth another look.
The game continued to ebb and flow with Crewe enjoying good periods of possession and offering much on the attack. Likewise from Preston though.
Beckford was again guilty of missing another chance on 62 minutes. Some good approach play from Garner and then Robinson saw the on-loan Bolton forward screw his close range effort wide with no-one near him. He did have the ball in the net moments later but was adjudged to have handled the ball as he bundled his way through.
Crewe made a double substitution with Tate and Ajose making way for Cooper and the returning Ikpeazu. Jones soon fired a long distance free-kick into the mid-drift of Johnstone.
Robinson also made way for Chris Humphrey for Simon Grayson’s side.
With 18 minutes remaining, the decisive match winner Garner completed his hat-trick with a wonderfully taken third. The forward showed neat footwork to find enough space to curl his shot beyond Rachubka.
That third goal for Preston led to Crewe’s third change of the afternoon with Chris Atkinson replacing Jones. Preston also swapped John Welsh for Neil Kilkenny.
Substitute Humphrey nearly created a fourth goal for Beckford but his well struck cross just missed the number 10 with his goal virtually at his mercy.
Ikpeazu’s first real involvement nearly saw him bundle the ball through to Haber but it just ran through to Johnstone.
Garner’s fourth goal was the easiest of the lot. After winning possession back from Ray, the unfortunate Beckford raced into the Crewe penalty area but his low shot was superbly saved onto the foot of the post by Rachubka, only for it to pop out invitingly for Garner to tap into an empty net.
With eight minutes left, Beckford finally got his goal. He ran in behind again, drew Rachubka and slotted his shot past the helpless Crewe goalkeeper. That would be his final touch of the afternoon as he was instantly replaced by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.