Defences on top at the Hive.
It was defences on top at the Hive Stadium, as Crewe managed to keep the league’s top marksman John Akinde quiet but the Bees also defended their box well enough to make sure it ended goalless in London. Akinde did have two good chances in the game but he failed to hit the target and George Cooper showed his defensive qualities by heading two efforts off our line.
Crewe did have the ball in the net through the returning Lowe but his close range effort was ruled out for offside after he had applied a touch to a Danny Hollands knockdown from Cooper’s free-kick.
On the club’s first visit to Barnet’s Hive Stadium, Crewe Alexandra were without winger Alex Kiwomya. The on-loan winger didn’t travel to the capital after picking up a bug towards the end of the week. His absence allowed Ryan Lowe to return to the starting line-up to partner youngster Callum Saunders in a new-look Crewe attack. The in-form George Cooper moved across to the right hand side as the Railwaymen reverted back to 4-4-2.
A fit-again Ollie Turton returned from injury to regain his place at right-back. Perry Ng moved across to left-back, as Harry Davis was paired alongside Jon Guthrie again. Ben Nugent dropped out of the starting line-up.
Tommy Lowery also started in the Crewe midfield ahead of Callum Ainley, who dropped back to the substitutes’ bench.
Ahead of kick-off, a two minute silence to remember those who have died in conflict was fantastically observed by everyone inside the Hive Stadium.
An early run in behind from Saunders made the Barnet captain Michael Nelson panic a little, but the defender reacted well enough to get the ball into touch. Turton’s cross was then too close to the Barnet goalkeeper Jamie Stephens.
Barnet’s first attempt on the Crewe goal resulted from a defensive slip from left-back Perry Ng. He allowed Curtis Weston to get in behind him and fire a shot straight at Ben Garratt. It was a straightforward save for the Alex goalkeeper, as was his next save as danger man Jon Akinde tried his luck from almost 30 yards.
Crewe were trying to catch Barnet out with a longer ball to release the movement of Lowe and Saunders, but Nelson was being effective enough in the air to clear. A patient build up from the Alex then allowed Jones to pick out Saunders at the far post but his shot was blocked by Mauro Vilhete inside the six-yard box and Crewe then felt aggrieved that we were not awarded a free-kick just outside the box as Lowery went down. Referee Gavin Ward waved away our appeals.
Hollands was screening Akinde extremely well if anything dropped off him as he contested for possession with Davis. Barnet would hit the big man whenever they could and try and play more football in our final third. Ryan Watson struck a half volley over the Alex crossbar, as both sides struggled to really create that genuine chance inside the opening 20 minutes.
Crewe’s best chance in the first phase of the first half saw Guthrie win a header at the far post and keep the ball alive with Lowe. After Jones’ shot was blocked, Saunders’ overhead kick took a deflection and bounced harmlessly through to Stephens. It was a decent effort from the young Welshman, who showed the confidence to try the acrobatics.
Cooper also showed real confidence with an ambitious effort from almost 40 yards out but after spotting the Barnet goalkeeper slightly off his line, his lofted shot just lacked the accuracy to really worry Stephens and it bounced wide of the left hand post.
Just after the half an hour mark, Lowe read a poor back pass from Bondz N’Gala but the Barnet goalkeeper had read the situation well enough to rush from his goal and make a block tackle on the Crewe striker and the ball spun away to the right hand side before being cleared by Vilhete.
Better pressure from the home side saw them hitting Akinde more effectively but Crewe were standing firm in defence and restricting them to shots from distance. Crewe were also coping well from set pieces with Garratt confidently coming for ones close to him to take some of that pressure off.
Five minutes before the interval, more tenacious play from Lowery eventually saw the ball fall to Lowe and the experienced striker went for accuracy instead of power and his effort went just inches wide of the far post.
Moments later, Jones hooked an effort over the ball after Turton had delivered a low cross from the right. Crewe had certainly ended the first half the more likely side but we had to survive a late Watson header with the final touch of the half. His header just cleared the right hand post after the busy Luke Gambin and Sam Muggleton combined.
Crewe had to organise at an early free-kick from Watson after Cooper was penalised for a shirt pull but went for goal and he send it over Garratt’s crossbar.
Up the other end, Saunders won a free-kick in a similar position. Cooper’s excellent delivery was headed goalwards by Hollands and Lowe was there to apply a final touch but the assistant referee had his flag up to rule it out for offside.
Akinde’s first real sight of the Crewe goal saw his header deflected over by Davis, as he jumped with the powerful striker.
The first change of the afternoon saw Barnet’s Watson make way for Jean Louis Akpa Akpro.
The home side continued to load our box when they could and they certainly had a weapon through the long throws of Muggleton but Crewe were defending very well and clearing our lines well.
Jones typified that defensive ethic when he was in the right place to clear a dangerous looking cross from Vilhete away from danger after the overlap had left Crewe outnumbered on the left hand side.
Barnet had their best spell on the game, forced a number of corners but the Railwaymen continued to get their heads on crosses and Garratt’s handling was good. One corner did find N’Gala but he couldn’t quite get his downward header on target.
From a Crewe corner, Lowery kept it alive but within a scramble, Davis’ flick on didn’t quite drop for Saunders to apply a definite touch. Lowery, hard working throughout, was booked but Crewe defended the free-kick going into our box again.
A scramble inside our own box then saw Garratt make a save low down after the ball broke to the supportive full-back Elliott Johnson. Allen made his second change of the game with Muggleton making way for Mason-Clark.
Crewe’s first change saw the excellent Lowery have a rest for Ainley. The change allowed Cooper to move across to the left hand side.
Akinde’s best opportunity arrived with ten minutes remaining after his physicality finally saw him get away from Guthrie but uncharacteristically he didn’t hit the target from the edge of the box. It was a golden chance missed.
The home side also went close from a corner but Crewe managed to get a header from N’Gala away from our line by winger Cooper. The pressure began to increase as their corner count grew.
Cooper saved his goalkeeper with another header off our line after Nelson had beaten the Crewe goalkeeper to another drilled corner coming in. Cooper did well from underneath his crossbar again.
The Alex were having to look to mount attacks on the counter-attack. Cooper couldn’t control a shot at the far post as good as he would have liked after Lowe picked him out. Lowe was then replaced for Nugent. The defender operated up front for the closing minutes as a forward.
It was Barnet’s forward Akinde, who had the best chance to steal the points in the final minute of stoppage time but he failed to hit the target after going one v one with Garratt. It was a major let off for the Alex and the referee drew the game to a close.