Goals in each half from Bradford City’s Gary Liddle and Billy Clarke condemned Crewe to a defeat in Yorkshire but the Railwaymen certainly had a few chances to have made more of a game of it at the Coral Windows Stadium.
Brad Inman hit the crossbar with our former goalkeeper Ben Williams seemingly beaten and Ryan Colclough positioned in front of the Bradford goal had a close range effort blocked by Nathan Clarke. Williams also had to save from Colclough after he had been slipped in behind by his captain Ollie Turton in the second half.
Crewe had some promising moments on the counter attack but didn’t make the most of those positions with a quality final pass or cross and Bradford's pressure told in first half stoppage time through Liddle and then 13 minutes into the second period from forward Clarke.
A strong Bradford side always looked the more likely side to score though and they took the lead in first half stoppage time when after being what was a really debatable free-kick, Liddle rose highest to head home the delivery going into the Crewe box.
Clarke then made it a massive task for us to get something from the game when he wriggled free of Ben Nugent close to the by-line before shooting past Garratt after 58 minutes.
Steve Davis was forced into one change from the side that lost in the FA Cup to Eastleigh last weekend. With Marcus Haber away on International duty with Canada, there was a place in the starting XI up for grabs and the Alex boss recalled a fit-again Billy Bingham for his first involvement since late August.
Bingham had missed the last nine months due to a problematic hamstring but has recently been in action for the club’s Development Squad and he was recalled in the centre of midfield alongside James Jones. Adam King moved out to wider role with Ryan Colclough pushed further forward to assist Callum Saunders.
The match kicked off at a rainy Bradford kicked off prior to a one-minute silence following the appalling terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris, France last night.
The game was immediately halted following a clash of heads between Ben Nugent and Bradford striker James Hanson. Nugent had to leave the field of play to be treated and he returned with a headband to cover the cut situated above his eye.
When play was resolved, Bingham cracked a really good effort from the edge of the box that needed a deflection to take it wide of Ben Williams’ right hand post and out for a corner. At the other end of the pitch, George Ray did superbly well to slide in and head away a dangerous crossed from Tony McMahon that was aimed for the towering Hanson.
On six minutes, Crewe conjured up a real promising break with Colclough playing the ball out to find Inman in a mountain of free space. Inman carried the ball to the edge of the Bradford box but his slip pass through to Saunders was a little heavy and the striker couldn’t quite take it in his stride.
Almost immediately, Bradford again got down the Crewe left hand side and Garratt had to stand firm to save from McMahon and after the ball was returned low into the six-yard box, the alert Hanson poked it inches wide. Some of the Bradford supporters situated at the far end of the Stadium believed it had squeezed in at the near post.
In a fairly open ten minutes, Inman struck a wicked shot from 20 yards that swerved awkwardly in front of our former goalkeeper Williams and he simply stuck out an arm more than anything to keep it out. In the slippery conditions it was well worth a try.
With Hanson putting himself about as usual, there were blood stoppages again for Nugent and then Guthrie, who had to change his white away shirt.
After Nugent’s clearance was closed down by Billy Clarke, danger man Hanson got a run on Ray inside the penalty area but the Crewe defender did enough to make sure the striker headed over Garratt’s crossbar. The Alex number one was soon called into action to save a deflected effort from Kyel Reid. The Bradford midfielder drilled a low shot that took a wild deflection to loop into the air but Garratt adjusted his body well to make sure he got his fingertips to it.
Just after the half an hour mark, Colclough and Jones showed some real battling qualities to keep the ball alive in our favour and although he was a little off balance, Colclough nearly squeezed an inch perfect pass into the advanced Saunders after he had made a clever run in behind. Williams read the situation though to rush from his goal to collect.
With seven minutes of the first half remaining, Hanson was gifted the perfect chance to put the Bantams ahead after Crewe had failed to initially clear a corner. The ball dropped invitingly for Hanson on the volley but inside a crowded penalty area, Nugent got a decisive touch on his effort to take it just wide.
Bradford finished the first half strongly and Garratt made a good save to deny Billy Knott from distance. The former Port Vale loanee caught the ball sweetly from almost 35 yards out and Garratt did extremely well to see it as it passed through a selection of bodies in front of him to push it away from danger.
Hanson also headed over from another corner with Ray once again applying enough pressure on him to make sure he didn’t get a comfortable run at it.
With barely seconds left on the clock, a really forceful run from Reid saw him pass King in the right hand channel of the box and his intelligent pull back should have resulted in Clarke giving the home side the lead but he screwed his shot wide of the mark. It was a let off for the Railwaymen who had granted both Reid and then Clarke too much space inside the 18 yard box.
The Bantams’ pressure finally told in first half stoppage time though after Crewe conceded a dubious free-kick. Crewe felt that the free-kick should have been in George Ray’s favour rather than for the home side. When the cross came in from the right, Liddle applied enough on his header to take it past Garratt. The Alex goalkeeper did get a hand on his header but it squirmed away from his grip to cross the line.
At the beginning of the second half, a really promising move involving the influential Bingham, Inman and then Saunders saw Crewe venture into the Bradford box but Inman eventually wandered just offside as Saunders tried to slip him free.
Ten minutes into the second half, another promising break from the Alex saw Inman play Colclough into space out on the left hand side. He cut back from the by-line to create enough space for a shot but his effort lacked power to really trouble Williams.
At the other end of the pitch, Phil Parkinson’s side looked a threat with Clarke buzzing around Hanson and Crewe needed Garratt to grasp a really dangerous cross that looked destined for the boot of Clarke and then a cross from Greg Leigh missed out everyone inside a packed penalty area.
On 58 minutes, the home side doubled their advantage thanks to a solo run and finish from Clarke. The lively Bradford City forward showed great close control to reach the by-line only for the covering Nugent to make a decent tackle on him to try and halt his progress but with the Crewe defender grounded, the ball seemed to spin back into the Bradford forward’s path and he tucked it past a helpless Garratt from close range.
Crewe, now facing a huge task against an upbeat Bradford side and home crowd, nearly hit back almost immediately but the agile Williams was well positioned to push over a powerful shot from Colclough.
After Bingham conceded a free-kick some 30 yards from our goal for trying to pinch the ball from Reid, McMahon’s well struck effort sailed just wide. Two minutes later and Inman went as close as can be with a superb strike that seemed to have Williams beaten but he was saved by his woodwork and frustratingly from our point of view, it bounced away from the Bradford box. It was a tremendous effort from Inman and Crewe needed that next goal to stage any hopes of a revival.
Reid shot into the side netting before Steve Davis made a double substitution with 20 minutes left. Bingham, who had performed admirably on his return to the starting line-up made way for Chris Atkinson and Stephen Kingsley came on for Guthrie at left back. Kingsley was soon called into defensive duty to block a volley from Reid at the far post, as the upbeat Bantams looked to put the game completely out of our reach.
Crewe nearly got a passage back into the contest but Nathan Clarke did superbly well to block a close range shot from Colclough and with the ball still not fully cleared, Inman curled his effort just inches wide of the top left hand corner.
Ryan Wintle came on to mark his senior debut for the club for Adam King. The former Alsager youngster to his credit tried to get touches on the ball and played with some confidence.
To their credit, the Alex continued to press and look for that goal that could have made the final few minutes a bit more anxious for the home team but Bradford defended their box extremely well and having been restricted to long shots, they were usually blocked by the number of bodies they would get back to retain their shape.