Crewe: Garratt, Nolan (Ng, 45), Raynes, Stubbs, Bakayogo, Grant, Pickering, Ainley, Kirk (Cooper, 67), Bowery (Porter, 67), Dagnall
Unused Subs: Richards, Walker, Lowery, Reilly
Goals: Dagnall (30)
Attendance: 4,165 (182 Crewe)
Crewe’s inability to follow up one win with another continued at the Abbey Stadium this afternoon. Cambridge United were worthy winners of our last game of 2017, with a really positive start to the game threatening to blow us away before we had even mustered an attack of note.
Winger George Maris gave the U’s the lead inside the opening 60 seconds after we got severely punished on the break after our kick-off had been launched deep into their half of the pitch.
A well taken second goal from David Amoo on 28 minutes was no more than the home side had deserved for their attacking play, but Crewe rallied well to hit back within two minutes thanks to a composed finish from Chris Dagnall.
Crewe were thankful to go in at the interval only a goal behind but we couldn’t make a bright start to the second half count with an equaliser with Dagnall going closest to doing so. It took a close range header from our former loanee striker Uche Ikpeazu sealing the points for the U’s with 20 minutes left.
Crewe Alexandra boss David Artell was mindful of that fact that we have two matches in two days so he made three changes to the side that registered our Boxing Day victory at Chesterfield.
To freshen things up for the trip to Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium, in came Jordan Bowery, Harry Pickering and Sam Stubbs for Perry Ng, Tom Lowery and Chris Porter.
The former Crewe Alexandra loanee, Uche Ikpeazu, was named in Shaun Derry’s starting XI.
Crewe Alexandra kicked off at the Abbey Stadium but were countered attacked within the opening 60 seconds. From deep within their own half, the U’s broke quickly through Jevani Brown from the centre of the pitch and he fed George Maris. He showed great pace and desire to take on full-back Eddie Nolan before shooting low beyond Ben Garratt. It was the worst possible start from the Alex.
It so nearly got doubly worse just minutes later. Brown was again the architect from the centre of the pitch, as they once again got ahead of our midfield. He fed Ikpeazu on the right hand side of the Crewe penalty area and his dangerous cross to the far post found David Amoo, but thankfully for us he didn’t quite connect as smoothly as he would have wanted. He fired down into the ground and it bounced just wide of the opposite post. It was a let off for Crewe, who had been awfully slow out of the blocks.
Crewe had to try and settle into some sort of rhythm but struggled in the opening 20 minutes. Ainley tried to break from deep but was crowded out as he made his way into the Cambridge half of the pitch. In contrast, a vibrant Cambridge offered a threat whenever they ventured forward. Left back Greg Taylor even tried to get in on the act but his right footed curler cleared Garratt’s crossbar.
Jevani Brown was proving too hot to handle and Crewe were not getting a grip of him and he continued to cause trouble to our under pressure defence. He did superbly again to create a glorious opening again for Maris but on this occasion, Garratt made a smart save to just get it around the post. Crewe were hanging in on there but only just.
In an attempt to get some respite, Stubbs won a free-kick deep in the Cambridge half but Conor Grant’s delivery harmlessly hit the wall.
It was Cambridge looking the more likely side to score again. Brown forced Garratt into another save before the busy Crewe goalkeeper had to push away a curling effort from Maris.
In truth, Cambridge’s second goal on 28 minutes was coming and well deserved. A long ball up field deceived Zoumana Bakayogo and allowed Amoo to race in behind. With Bakayogo out of the equation and Amoo having space to run into, he confidently lashed home past Garratt to put the home side 2-0 up.
Crewe needed something and quickly and two minutes later we produced some quality. Callum Ainley did superbly to slot Chris Dagnall in on goal and the Crewe captain kept his composure superbly well to round goalkeeper David Forde and slot home his 7th goal of the season. It was genuinely Crewe’s real attack of the game but meant that we were still in the contest. It was a lifeline out of nowhere.
A period of good possession from Crewe saw us switch play confidently from right to left but Bakayogo was penalised for a foul before his overlapping run could result in anything productive.
In fairness, only going in at the half-time interval only one goal in it was a blessing for the Alex, who could have been blown away in the opening 20 minutes.
Crewe boss David Artell made a change at the break with Ng replacing Nolan at right-back. Ikpeazu was presented with an early opportunity from a cross but a little knick off Stubbs just took it away from his head.
Artell’s men made a much brighter start to the second half. Dagnall had Crewe’s first half-chance of the second period via a deep corner, but it came at him at an awkward height and he could only stretch to volley over. Dagnall was in there again and was only denied a near post header by some excellent defending by George Taft.
More great pressure from Crewe nearly brought about an equaliser. Kirk’s wonderful free-kick invited the Crewe players to go in on goalkeeper David Forde. The ball didn’t quite drop for Dagnall for him to have a tap in and after a short melee, Leon Legge, made a fantastic block to deny Ainley. It was much better from the Railwaymen.
Stubbs was booked for a foul on Ikpeazu and from the second phase from the free-kick, Amoo headed just wide when we should have really hit the target to at least test Garratt.
Just after the hour mark, a promising move from the Alex nearly saw us draw level. Ng found Dagnall in the right channel and as we moved up the pitch, the right-back raced into the box and his low shot just cleared Forde’s left hand post.
Shaun Derry made his first change soon afterwards with Jabo Ibehre replacing Medy Elito.
Artell made a double change with 25 minutes left, with Cooper and Porter replacing Kirk and Bowery. After some good work from Grant, a cheeky chip from Dagnall nearly found Porter in behind but Forde read it well to collect.
On 70 minutes, Cambridge extended their lead to 3-1 through Ikpeazu. Amoo produced an accurate cross from the left and Ikpeazu powered his header past a helpless Garratt. It was the former Crewe loanee’s 10th goal of the season. Following the goal, there was a short stoppage as both Ikpeazu and Stubbs needed treatment but both were able to continue.
Crewe tried to rally again and from an Ainley corner, we nearly found a way back into the game again. Raynes won a towering header at the far post and Forde was forced into a fantastic save to deny Dagnall. He somehow kept it out and his second effort was blocked before Grant’s follow up was cleared.
Just moments later, a real chance fell to Bakayogo but the left-back on his wrong foot lashed it wastefully over the crossbar. If one of those chances had gone in, it could really have been an interesting last ten minutes.
Crewe continued to try and carve out an opening and apply some nervy tension in the closing stages but Derry’s team saw out the game well.
Saying that a rush of blood from substitute Ibehre saw him red carded in stoppage time after he clashed off the ball with Stubbs. An eagle eyed assistant referee spotted the infringement and the referee did not hesitate to show the red card.