Crewe Alexandra may have been struggling for results at home but a 2-1 win at Barnsley now means it is seven points from nine on the road following that win at Shrewsbury and draw at Walsall.
Crewe came into the game at Oakwell with 10 players unavailable either through injury or being away on International duty but Steve Davis’s XI plus his young bench came up trumps thanks to goals from Ryan Colclough and the recalled Lauri Dalla Valle. A real resolute performance in defence kept Barnsley at bay and allowed LDV to apply that sucker punch as we entered the final 10 minutes.
Colclough thumped us ahead after 14 minutes from a free-kick from the edge of the penalty area but that initial lead lasted barely two minutes with Barnsley’s captain Alfie Mawson heading home from a corner.
Crewe had to hang in the game at times in the second half but that effort and resilience to keep the ball out of our net paid off with Dalla Valle cleverly using his chest to divert a cross from Adam King into the net with eight minutes left. The Barnsley goalkeeper Nick Townsend got a strong hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.
Steve Davis made three changes to the Crewe Alexandra side that narrowly lost 3-2 to Wigan Athletic in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on Tuesday evening. With restricted numbers, Davis reverted back to a 4-3-3 formation so there was a recall for midfielder Adam King following his rest in mid-week.
With George Ray missing with a fracture of the cheekbone, as expected the back four that ended the game against the Latics started at Oakwell. With Marcus Haber away on International duty with Canada there was another chance for Lauri Dalla Valle to grab one of the striker roles. George Cooper dropped to the bench.
Callum Saunders managed to return from sitting on the Wales Under-21 bench to take his place on our bench, alongside first team professional Toby Mullarkey, who has handed a squad shirt only yesterday.
With numbers short due to injuries and International call-ups for Haber, Harry Wilson and Stephen Kingsley, midfielder James Jones was named in the squad as cover, after only been given the green light to resume competitive training following surgery on his shoulder. Jones sustained the injury at Alsager Town back in pre-season.
The home side conjured up an early attack with Ben Nugent clearing an in swinging cross from full-back George Smith and then Jon Guthrie had to be well placed to block a low drive from Ben Pearson. Guthrie also did well to cut a dangerous looking cross before it found the late run of Josh Scowen.
Crewe’s first venture into the Barnsley half saw Brad Inman make good progress down the right-hand side before King was found on the edge of the penalty area but he elected to pass to Ryan Colclough rather than a take a shot himself and the move petered out.
A strong run from left winger Kadeem Harris forced Ben Garratt into his first meaningful save after 10 minutes and a minute later Conor Hourihane dragged a shot wastefully wide from the edge of the penalty area. With Barnsley applying the early pressure, the Alex goalkeeper was also called upon to foil Marley Watkins after a set-piece corner found him in too space. Garratt jumped in front of him to make himself big and Watkins could only head against his arm.
On 14 minutes, a promising run from Colclough was halted by a foul on the edge of the penalty area. Colclough dusted himself off to take the free-kick himself and he powerful drove it past the Barnsley wall and past a helpless Nick Townsend for his third goal of the season. It was an unstoppable free-kick that left Oakwell stunned.
Disappointingly from a Crewe perspective, the lead lasted barely two minutes. Crewe had been troubled by corners early on and a third one finally paid off for the home side. On this occasion, the Barnsley captain Alfie Mawson out jumped the arm of Garratt to nod the Tykes level. There didn’t appear to be an infringement inside a crowded six-yard box and the Alex will be frustrated to have conceded from another set play, especially after Colclough’s wonderful strike had briefly put us ahead.
Barnsley felt that they should have had a penalty when wide man Harris went down instead the box but the player himself didn’t appeal too much and referee Mark Brown waved away the appeals. The official did book Chris Atkinson after 25 minutes for a lunging late tackle on Hourihane.
Sam Winnall flashed a header over the crossbar after Harris attacked down the Crewe right hand side. Former Crewe trialist, Winnall, also volleyed over the bar from an acute angle.
A patient passing move from the Alex then saw them switch the play on a couple of occasions before Brad Inman applied just too much on a pass to find the run in behind of Dalla Valle and it ran through to Townsend.
On 37 minutes, a swift counter attack from the Railwaymen saw King play Dalla Valle down the left hand side and he re-found the on-loan Swansea youngster on the edge of the box. His curling shot seemed to take a nick off a defender to send it behind for a corner. A short corner from Fox was quickly played to Inman in space but his dipping shot was well held by Townsend.
Crewe continued to offer a threat on the break and the unselfish running of Dalla Valle into the channels created space for the likes of King, Inman and Colclough to join him but Townsend wasn’t being tested as much as we would have liked.
The second half kicked off with a wayward shot from Barnsley’s Ben Pearson from 20 yards out. Turton also did extremely well at the far post to deny Watkins a clean header at goal after danger man Harris again used his pace to reach the by-line and produce an excellent cross.
Baille was booked for pulling the on-loan Harris back as he threatened to get away down the Crewe right and the young full-back now had to tread carefully.
A well crafted move from the Tykes saw Hourihane fire straight at Garratt with the outside of his foot before there was a short stoppage for an injury to Brad Inman. He appeared to twist his knee but he was able to continue.
Barnsley continued to press forward and they were certainly enjoying the majority of the possession. More good work from Winnall saw him burst through and provide a low cross across the six-yard box but Watkins couldn’t apply a decisive touch at the far post and the ball ran through to allow Turton to clear. Moments later Alfie Mawson fired a direct free kick through to Garratt before Hourihane was cautioned for chopping down Dalla Valle closer to our box than theirs.
Crewe were forced to defend in numbers but were getting their heads on crosses entering our penalty area and applying necessary blocks and interceptions on shots and passes. There was no question that Barnsley looked the more likely side to score again, but Crewe were digging in with 20 minutes left on the clock.
A promising break from the Railwaymen involving the pace of Inman and Colclough saw us advance up the pitch and after an exchange of passes between the two forward players, a chance was laid on for captain David Fox but his deflected effort spun into the air and into the gloves of Townsend.
From another promising run from Colclough, he created an opening to his right but he couldn’t execute the right pass to roll in King when he should have and the chance was lost.
With 12 minutes remaining, Hourihane shot a yard over Garratt’s crossbar before Crewe went ahead for the second time. Crewe broke down the Barnsley left hand side and King drilled over a dangerous cross and Dalla Valle adjusted his body to chest it goalwards and the power beat Townsend at his near post. It was just the tonic the Alex needed, who hit Barnsley on the counter attack.
Lee Johnson made an instant change with Harris surprisingly making way for Michael Smith but he was immediately involved in a close call after latching onto a long ball. He appeared to be favourite to reach the ball ahead of Nugent but the Alex defender did enough to put him off in front of Garratt.
Crewe had to dig in and hold on and Garratt was forced to make a late tip over in stoppage time with Mawson again being a nuisance from a corner. He also had to do the same to deny a looping header from Reece Wabara and the whistle finally came to signal a second win of the season for the Railwaymen.