Group B northern section opener ends in Alex win thanks to goals from Ainley, Cooper and Udoh.
Crewe Alexandra's young guns came up trumps as the Railwaymen started the group stage of the Checkatrade Cup competition with a deserved 3-0 win at Accrington Stanley. Genuine chances were few and far between in the first half at the Crown Ground, but a tidy finish from Callum Ainley just two minutes after the restart and another from George Cooper with 14 minutes left made it a fairly comfortable night for the Alex. Substitute Daniel Udoh notched his first senior goal in professional football when he was in the right place to turn in a low cross from the impressive Cooper in stoppage time. It was the perfect way for Udoh to celebrate his 20th birthday. It was no more than Crewe deserved as well after looking the more dangerous side throughout the 90 minutes.
As expected, Steve Davis chose to utilise his squad for the club’s first Group B northern section encounter against Accrington Stanley. The Crewe Alexandra boss named five players that started at Cheltenham at the weekend with goalkeeper Ben Garratt, full-backs Ollie Turton and Zoumana Bakayogo, midfielder Danny Hollands and forward George Cooper retaining their places.
Steve Davis handed chances to youngsters Callum Saunders, Charlie Kirk and Callum Ainley. He also recalled James Jones to partner Hollands in midfield and changed his two centre-halves with George Ray and Ben Nugent handed game time. With Ryan Lowe rested completely and Harry Davis named as a substitute, Zoumana Bakayogo captained the side.
Charlie Kirk had an early sight of the Accrington Stanley goal after just two minutes but his powerful shot from 20 yards whistled just past Elliott Parish’s right hand post. Kirk had pounced on a wayward header and had the conviction to drop his shoulder and get a shot off.
Accrington’s Paddy Lacey also tried his luck from distance after Billy Kee had scrapped to shift the ball to the midfielder, but his shot was always rising and was well covered by Ben Garratt.
Crewe continued to keep possession really well with some nice one touch passing and good movement but the home side were working equally hard to reduce our space in the final third of the pitch. Cooper had a decent snap shot after picking up a good position behind Saunders but his low drive was well watched by Parish.
After some good possession play from Accrington, John O’Sullivan fired in a shot from edge of the Crewe penalty area but from such an acute angle it was never going to trouble Garratt. The Crewe goalkeeper was called into action moments later though as Bastien Hery broke from midfield for the first time and fired in a shot from 20 yards that was comfortably gathered by the Crewe number one.
On 33 minutes, Bakayogo, who was getting some joy as an attacking threat down the Accrington right hand side, drilled over a splendid cross to the far post and the advanced Cooper got his head on it but his attempted knock back towards Saunders was intercepted and ultimately hooked clear by tall defender Ross Sykes.
There really wasn’t that much in the game with neither side really conjuring up a major opportunity to take the lead before the half time interval. With four minutes of a fairly even first half remaining, Accrington did have a chance from a well worked corner routine but the towering Sykes couldn’t keep his header down from Sean McConville’s accurate delivery from the Crewe left hand side.
Kirk did have the ball in Accrington net after a well created free-kick but the wide man had strayed off-side after centre halves, Ray and Nugent had been able to win their personal battles to flick the ball on. Moments later, another good run from Bakayogo saw him cross to Kirk and his knock down found Cooper, but his shot on the turn was deflected behind for our first corner of the night.
Before the end of the half, Accrington defender Matty Pearson was booked for a foul on Saunders and Kirk likewise for catching O’Sullivan in stoppage time.
Just two minutes into the second half, Crewe took the lead in the cup tie. Midfielder Danny Hollands did well to halt a dangerous looking break from Accrington and after he had won a free-kick on the edge of our box, Crewe broke quickly and youngsters Kirk and Ainley combined superbly down the left to finally open the home side’s defence up. Kirk cut back a cross from the by-line and Ainley produced a composed finish to give Parish no chance.
With the advantage of the opening goal, Crewe began to enjoy sustained possession once again and a really promising run from Cooper was only halted by a last ditch block tackle as he entered the Accrington box.
In response, McConville tried his luck from an ambitious free-kick by his effort was straight down the middle and Garratt gathered. Jones was then rather harshly booked for a foul on O’Sullivan after he had skipped past him. Bakayogo was also booked for a more severe foul on winger O’Sullivan.
Accrington boss John Coleman made a double substitution just after the hour mark with Nathan Webb and Luke Wall replacing Hery and McConville.
An excellent through ball from Jones found a clever run from Saunders and his cross shot was pushed out by Parish but no-one was following up for Crewe for a simple tap-in.
Accrington’s final throw of the dice saw Rommy Boco replace Kee with 20 minutes left. Crewe’s first change saw Daniel Udoh replace goal scorer Ainley.
Crewe were trying to see the game out and a really solid defensive display had limited Accrington's genuine chances at our goal. Crewe sealed the tie on 76 minutes after Hollands broke up another Accrington attack and the ball broke kindly for Cooper. The youngster raced clear and showed real composure as he slipped it beyond Parish for his second goal of the campaign.
Accrington pressed forward to try and get back into the group tie and Garratt had to push away a close range effort from O'Sullivan as the home side stepped up in the final 10 minutes. Nugent was also booked as Crewe's tally went to four on the night. Bakayogo had to limp off late on after suffering what looked like a twisted knee but he was able to walk off. Jon Guthrie replaced him. In the final minute, Saunders was denied a late goal when Parish rushed out to smother the ball as it looked like breaking kindly for him.
Crewe did find a third goal in stoppage time after another well worked goal. Hollands found Cooper down the left with an excellent pass and his low cross was turned in at close range by sub Udoh on his 20th birthday. It was his first goal in professional football and the perfect way to celebrate his birthday.
A solid defensive display from the Alex allowed us to see out the remaining minutes and boss Steve Davis will be delighted with the clean-sheet to go with the victory.
Accrington: Parish, Pearson, Davies, McConville (Webb), Jones, McKeown, Hery (Wall), Lacey, Sykes, O'Sullivan, Kee (Boco)
Crewe: Garratt, Turton, Bakayogo (Guthrie), Ray, Nugent, Hollands, Jones, Kirk, Ainley (Udoh), Saunders, Cooper
Att: 585 (110 from Crewe)