Uche & Taylor win it for U'sCrewe Alexandra slipped to a third successive defeat at Cambridge with our former loanee striker Uche Ikpeazu and a fine strike Will Norris inflicting the damage at Abbey Road.
James Jones drilled home a splendid goal to halve the deficit and although the introduction of Billy Bingham as a substitute saw us control more of the possession in the second half and the second period, Crewe could not quite muster another genuine chance to sneak an away point.
Crewe Alexandra boss Steve Davis was able to name his first choice left-back Zoumana Bakayogo for the first time since our meeting with league leaders Plymouth Argyle last month. After overcoming his hamstring injury, Bakayogo returned to the starting line-up ahead of youngster Perry Ng for the trip to club’s first visit to the Abbey Stadium since 1995.
With Callum Saunders, the only player ruled out with a hamstring injury, it was a stronger substitutes’ bench. Defenders George Ray and Ng missed out but there were places in the squad for youngsters Callum Ainley, Tom Lowery and Charlie Kirk.
The Cambridge United side included the former Academy graduate Mark Roberts at the back and our former on-loan striker Uche Ikpeazu as the U’s target man.
A competitive start to the proceedings saw Chris Dagnall and Mark Roberts contest for possession and Ikpeazu making his presence known up against Crewe’s central defensive partnership of Davis and Guthrie.
The home side had an early shout for a penalty but Luke Berry went to ground a little too easily as Davis moved across to cut out a cross from Harrison Dunk. In fairness there was not much an appeal from the
Cambridge players. Moments later, a decent effort from Pierre Mingola flew over the Crewe crossbar.
The flow of the contest was interrupted by a few soft free-kicks and players straying needlessly offside.
With Crewe struggling to get a grip of possession in the final third of the pitch, Cambridge continued to pile on some sustained pressure and Garratt had to grasp a looping header from Leon Legge following a corner from the left.
On 20 minutes, Ikpeazu showed his strength to hold off the intentions from James Jones as a free-kick dropped to him but his ambitious lob towards the Crewe goal was collected by the well positioned Garratt. It would have been some effort to have lifted it over Crewe goalkeeper following his turn.
Cambridge continued to hit the front whenever they could, thus forcing the Crewe defenders to face their own goal more than we would have liked but we continued to defend that tactic fairly well.
Ikpeazu was effective in his hold up play and he was involved in another move which resulted in Garratt having to scramble a shot from Conor Newton behind for a corner.
Crewe’s best move arrived in the 27th minute after some encouraging passing. Hollands and Jones managed to get the ball forward into Lowe and his lifted pass was perfect for the run of Cooper but the towering
Cambridge goalkeeper, Will Norris, left his line to beat the Crewe winger to the ball and clear away from danger.
Garratt was forced into a routine save to collect a low drive from Halliday before Cooper slipped in Lowe, who’s shot from a tight angle was blocked by the feet of Norris.
Crewe had their best spell of the first half as we entered the interval but we couldn’t muster another genuine chance to test Norris again.
With the last kick of the first period, Cambridge had the best chance of the entire half to get their noses in front. Dunk held it up in the area and laid it off for Newton from 15-yards, but he blasted his shot high over the bar.
After a promising start to the second half, our former forward Ikpeazu broke the deadlock on 51 minutes for the home side. He initially did well in the build-up, using his chest to control a long ball and after he had played a fluent exchange of passes with Newton, the powerful striker lifted his shot beyond Garratt for the opening goal of the afternoon.
The big man then tried to guide a low shot into the bottom corner after he was given a chance to run at Davis but in truth, Garratt had his effort covered.
Just before the hour mark, Crewe’s afternoon became doubly difficult after Chris Dagnall was robbed of possession on the edge of the penalty area by Greg Taylor and the advanced defender confidently rifled a powerful shot off the underside the crossbar to defeat Garratt. Crewe only had themselves to blame for the indecision in our own back-line and Dagnall didn’t need telling following his mistake.
Steve Davis quickly made a double change with Dagnall and Hollands off for Bingham and Kirk. The Alex youngster instantly won a corner on the right hand side but Legge stretched higher to just put off Davis inside the six-yard box.
The changes certainly gave Crewe an extra impetus and a really tidy finish from Jones made for an interesting climax to the game. The build-up was slicker and after Lowe had slipped the ball to him, the midfielder got the ball out of his feet to drill a low shot past a helpless Norris. It was a well-executed shot to give Jones his fourth goal of the campaign.
The only downside of the Crewe goal was an injury to captain Lowe. He appeared to be struggling with his hamstring and was unable to continue. Dan Udoh replaced him with 19 minutes remaining.
Ikpeazu continued to a threat though and his attempted curler from just inside the penalty area had to be watched by Garratt, who had to move across his six-yard box to make the save look straightforward.
The confidence was oozing from Ikpeazu and his neat flick into Mingoia saw him force Garratt into another save. His central shot was pushed away by the Crewe stopper.
With just the one goal now dividing the two sides, the Alex were in the game, but needed to get on the ball a lot more up the pitch. Bingham was excellent and tried to drive us forward.
The hard working Ikpeazu left the field in stoppage time to a standing ovation from the home faithful.
Cambridge held on in the closing stages to inflict another defeat in December for the Railwaymen with table toppers Carlisle arriving in south Cheshire on Boxing Day.
Crewe did have two half chances late on though but neither Jones or Cooper could get their shots on target.