Swindon Town’s new strike force of Wes Thomas and Nicky Ajose inflicted a 3-1 home defeat on Crewe Alexandra - but the score line certainly didn’t reflect the contest over 90 minutes.
The Railwaymen will be left hugely disappointed that they didn’t gain anything from a contest that we dominated for large periods.
After Adam King had given us the lead just after the hour mark there would not have been many predicting a 3-1 home defeat but that is how it unravelled.
King’s third goal of the season should have been the spring board for us to go on and claim our first win of the season, but we conceded a sloppy goal just two minutes later when youngster Tommy Smith shot past Ben Garratt after the initial danger had not been cleared.
Crewe were very much in the game still and looked the more likely to go on and retake the lead - but Swindon’s new forward duo of Thomas and our former loanee Nicky Ajose showed their clinical edge with two well taken finishes in the final ten minutes to leave us bottom of League One.
For such large parts of the game, the Alex played some really enterprising football but just couldn’t find a way past Lawrence Vigouroux with Chris Atkinson, Ryan Colclough and Lauri Dalle Valle all being denied by the on-loan Liverpool goalkeeper.
International call-ups for Marcus Haber and Harry Wilson and a hamstring injury to midfielder Billy Bingham forced Steve Davis into two changes for the visit of Swindon Town. Lauri Dalla Valle returned to the starting line-up in a more central role with Chris Atkinson replacing Bingham in midfield.
The other change came at the back with club captain Harry Davis replacing George Ray in the heart of the defence for his first start of the season. Davis had missed the start of the new campaign because of a knee injury.
Academy youngster Callum Ainley was named on the substitutes’ bench for the first time in his young career after making an impressive start to the new season for the club’s Under-18s.
Swindon boss Mark Cooper named our former loanee striker Nicky Ajose in his starting line-up after he left Leeds United by mutual consent on deadline. Town’s other new signing Wes Thomas also started at Gresty Road.
Before kick-off a really emotional one minute applause for Crewe’s appearance record holder Tommy Lowry. The fans in the Gresty Road proclaimed there was ‘only one Tommy Lowry’ as well in a moving moment.
As you would expect with both sides eager to pass the ball, it was a game of real patience and space in the final third was restricted in the opening exchanges as both sets of players found their feet. An early cross from Stephen Kingsley was cut out before it reached a well-placed Lauri Dalla Valle inside the penalty area. From the other side, a lively appearance from Ryan Colclough saw his cross cut out by Brandon Ottewill and the full-back needed treatment after Ollie Turton slid into him to try and retrieve possession.
Our former forward Ajose then found the overlapping Bradley Barry and his cut back was perfect for Thomas, but he couldn’t keep his shot down enough to trouble Ben Garratt for the first time on the day.
Crewe’s best hope of opening the scoring came from the lively Colclough. The skilful wide man had a fantastic shot from 20 yards out pushed over superbly well by Lawrence Vigouroux before he dragged another low shot straight at the Swindon goalkeeper.
From a David Fox corner, Dalla Valle had a half chance smuggled just off the line by the Swindon captain Raphael Branco.
Both sides enjoyed good spells of possession, looking to probe and wait patiently for those openings. In the first half they were rather few and far between but Crewe certainly shaded the better of the openings.
Another clever run from Dalla Valle saw him flick a cross from Kingsley a yard or so wide before the best performer in the first half, Colclough fired straight at the Swindon goalkeeper after he had cut back inside.
Crewe finished the first half really on top and arguably had the better of our two chances in the final few minutes. Dalla Valle was denied by the onrushing Vigouroux and he just couldn’t quite sort his feet out as the Swindon stopper came out to smother the ball.
In injury time some wonderful football down the right hand side unlocked the Swindon back line and Dalla Valle’s flick into Atkinson’s path saw the midfielder denied from cross range by a superb reflex save from the busier of the two goalkeepers.
After Wes Thomas had fired wastefully over the crossbar in the early exchanges of the second half, Crewe dominated the possession and applied more pressure on the Swindon goal. Atkinson shot just wide before a Kingsley cross was too high for Dalla Valle at the far post.
Barry was booked for a foul on Inman as he threatened to get away down the channel as Crewe looked the more likely to score first – but that was until an almighty mix up a the back with Garratt rushing from his goal to try and help out Turton, who had Ajose rushing on him. The muddle saw the Crewe players taken out of the equation and Ajose had an empty net to aim at from 35 yards out - but he uncharacteristically hit it wide of the mark. Ajose didn’t need telling he should have scored. It was a lucky escape for Crewe.
Atkinson forced another save from Vigouroux before the deadlock was finally broken on 61 minutes. Ajose lost possession and King got the ball out of his feet and tried his luck from 25 yards and his powerful drive finally defeated the Swindon goalkeeper.
That should have been the catalyst for the Railwaymen to push on and claim those three points but the lead lasted barely two minutes. Garratt initially made a fine save to deny Thomas at the far post after he looked favourite to connect to a cross field pass from Rogers, but the ball went loose and with Crewe not pressuring the substitute Smith he drove his shot past the Crewe goalkeeper from the edge of the box. Crewe didn’t hold onto the lead long enough and we were back to square one.
Nugent was fouled for catching Ajose before our former forward latched onto a superb cross to force another smart of save from Garratt. He also hit one into the side netting.
A strong run from Atkinson to the by-line nearly picked out Dalle Valle and Fox had a shot blocked after being found inside the box by Colclough. Rogers, son of the Liverpool manager Brendan also did brilliantly to clear with his head before the incoming King was about to head a Kingsley cross on target.
Crewe were going all out for three points and the substitution made by Steve Davis reflected that with George Cooper replacing Atkinson. Crewe basically went with four up front looking for that next goal.
As it turned out though it was Swindon’s forwards making the difference. On 81 minutes, Fabien Robert slipped Wes Thomas in behind the Alex back line and the on-loan Birmingham forward fired high into the roof of the net. It was a bitter blow for Crewe to take.
In the closing minutes, young Callum Ainley came on for the injured Dalla Valle and had some encouraging first touches in the professional game.
With Crewe pressing looking for what would have been a deserved point at the very least; Ajose finished us off in stoppage time, planting his accurate shot into our top corner after the ball had dropped to him instead the box.