Crewe Alexandra’s dismal record in the FA Cup continued this evening as an excellent Cheltenham side deservedly ran out 4-1 winners at the Alexandra Stadium.
The visitors’ intensity and energy was too much for the Alex who were already 4-0 down before substitute Ryan Lowe scored a consolation goal following good work from fellow sub Callum Saunders.
Cheltenham now face Sutton United in round two after an impressive performance and Crewe disappointingly never got going in a competition that has seen us exit at the first round stage in 7 of our last 8 attempts.
There was one enforced change to the Crewe Alexandra side that lost 2-1 to league leaders Plymouth Argyle at the weekend. With left-back Zoumana Bakayogo ruled out with a hamstring strain, centre-half Ben Nugent was recalled to the starting line-up. Jon Guthrie moved across to left full-back to fill the void in the back four. With Ollie Turton still ruled out through injury, there was another opportunity at right-back for Perry NG.
On another positive note, veteran striker Ryan Lowe was named on the substitutes’ bench after shaking off his ankle injury and his introduction did inject some life into our attack in the second half but by then it was too late.
Cheltenham boss Gary Johnson named our former Academy graduate Billy Waters in their starting line-up after he scored the opening goal in the first tie down at Whaddon Road.
Crewe Alexandra had the ball in the net in the opening minutes after Daniel Udoh ran onto a long ball from Harry Davis but he was adjudged to have nudged the Cheltenham captain Aaron Downes off balance before he dispatched his shot past Russell Griffiths. It looked a soft foul to be honest because there didn’t seem to be too much contact from the Crewe striker. The Alex staff and players certainly thought the goal should have stood.
Minutes later, George Cooper flashed a low shot past the far post but after those brief early chances, a hard working Cheltenham side began to really get a grip on the proceedings. They became a lot sharper in everything they did and they continued to press Crewe into making wrong decisions. Crewe kept getting caught in possession and Cheltenham would quickly spring on our back four. It appeared far too easy and we were lacking some experienced heads to stop the flow.
Our former player Waters raced in behind the back-line down the right hand side and he produced an accurate cross into Dan Holman but the Cheltenham striker could not control his finish and he fired wastefully wide. Pell also had a shot deflected behind for a corner before they deservedly took the lead on 19th minutes. Cheltenham nicked possession yet again to counter attack and Holman forced a good save from Garratt but the energetic Pell was there to tap home the rebound, although he did appear to be offside when he did.
Cheltenham pressed us into conceding possession far too easily and they overpowered us with their physicality and hunger. In search of a second goal, Wright fired over the bar and only a timely interception from Nugent prevented the Cheltenham striker from having a simple tap in.
More encouraging play from Alex winger Cooper saw him have a probing run at the Cheltenham defence but his low shot was blocked. NG's follow up was grasped at the second attempt by the Cheltenham goalkeeper.
Russell Griffiths had another jittery moment when we allowed a simple cross from Kiwomya to slip from his grasp but no-one was following up to take full advantage.
A wonderful cross from Daniel O’Shaughnessy should have been headed home by Dan Holman but he couldn’t quite get it on target enough.
Cheltenham doubled their lead on 36 minutes with full-back Jack Barthram racing in behind and as he slid in with Nugent, the defender just got enough on it to poke it past Garratt. Crewe were out of sorts and virtually out of the FA Cup because we hadn’t matched the visitors energy levels from the start of the game.
Crewe desperately needed the half time whistle but at the interval we lost Kiwomya, who was forced off with a hamstring strain. The injury to the winger allowed Lowe to play 45 minutes and he added some life to the Alex attack.
We actually started the second half in a promising fashion. Jon Guthrie fired over from close range from a good position before Ainley shot over following a couple of corners from the right.
The next goal was always going to be crucial and after that spirited start to the second half, our former youngster Waters popped up to make it 3-0 on 52 minutes. He nipped in at close range and the ball dropped past some static defending and he lifted it past Garratt for a goal on the first return to Gresty Road.
In response, Udoh tried to force his way towards goal and his determination allowed the ball to reach Lowe in a good position but he shot straight at Griffiths.
Cheltenham were enjoying their performance and they duly ended any hopes of a comeback by netting a fourth goal on 61 minutes. The hardworking forward raced into the channel before firing a super shot past Garratt for the goal of the night and one he probably deserved on the night.
Saunders replaced Udoh soon after and credit to the youngster because it was darting run in behind that created the consolation goal for Lowe on 64 minutes. Saunders had the awareness to pull the ball back for Lowe, who fired low and into the net for his 8th goal of the season.
It was a mere consolation for the Alex and Cheltenham continued to be a threat going forward. They were getting in far too easily and some better finishing could have seen them add to their tally. The former Academy youngster Amari Morgan-Smith clipped the crossbar after being found by Waters, who would later leave the pitch to warm applause from both sets of fans and man-of-the-match Pell had a couple of efforts deflected behind.
James Jones had a couple of long range efforts that bounced close to a second goal for Crewe but in all honesty, the visitors looked the more likely side to score again with their powerful movement, mainly from midfield. Morgan-Smith wanted a goal but shot at Garratt and substitute James Rowe went close late on to a 5th goal as they threatened to run riot again in the later stages.Crewe desperately wanted the final whistle.