Lee Martin's wonder goal for Exeter decides the points as Miller's late effort hits the crossbar.
Crewe: Garratt, Ng, Ray (c), Nolan, Pickering, Wintle, Jones, Kirk (Dale, 52), Ainley (Finney, 86), Bowery, Nicholls (Miller, 76)
Unused Subs: Richards, Hunt, Porter, Whelan
Attendance: 3,505 (104)
Crewe Alexandra’s poor record on the road continued at Exeter City this afternoon with Lee Martin scoring the only goal from long range just minutes before thehalf time interval. Martin had the ambition to try his luck from distance and his effort flew into Ben Garratt’s top corner.
Crewe regrouped in the second half and certainly improved in an attacking sense with Callum Ainley presented with two decent opportunities and substitute Shaun Miller rocking the crossbar after he grounded the Exeter goalkeeper, Christy Pym. Miller must have thought he had scored with just minutes left on the clock but he had just lifted his shot too high and the chance of a deserved point was lost.
After a lengthy and thorough pitch inspection due to hours of torrential rain in the city, the match official, Craig Hicks, gave the game the go-ahead. The ground staff at Exeter City did a sterling job to make sure the game had every chance of starting at 3pm.
George Ray returned to the starting line-up to captain the side and that meant another change of role for Perry Ng, who switched to right-back. Corey Whelan was the unfortunate one to drop out of the side.
There was also an alteration of formation to include Alex Nicholls ahead of Shaun Miller. Nicholls operated off the right hand side, thus freeing Callum Ainley in a more central role in support of lone forward Jordan Bowery.
With the incessant rain, there was bound to be surface water on the pitch but the ball was moving fairly comfortably in the opening exchanges.
George Ray was rather lucky to escape an early card after slipping into Nicky Law and from the resultant free-kick, Crewe failed to clear the danger and Jake Taylor was unfortunate to see his lob rebound back off the Crewe crossbar. The Exeter captain had stole in behind the Crewe back line but it would have been some finish to have beaten a well-placed Ben Garratt from such an acute angle.
Exeter kept the pressure on and Garratt was needed to tip over from Law but referee Hicks didn’t notice the touch and awarded the Alex a goal kick.
After just ten minutes, James Jones, was cautioned for catching Taylor after he had controlled a loose ball from his goalkeeper, Christy Pym, before the Crewe midfielder could get there. It was a bookable offence and there continued to be a few sliding challenges going in.
Crewe forced a couple of corners and one taken from Jones from the left, George Ray tried to side foot a half chance on target but it was a difficult one to execute when under intense pressure.
Moments later, good work from Bowery teed up Ainley but his shot from 25 yards was blocked. Nicholls then so nearly played Bowery in but Dara O’Shea made a superb last-ditch tackle to play the ball off him and behind.
In the tricky conditions, Pickering was lucky that the referee didn’t see his slight trip on Lee Martin as he looked to get through on the Crewe goal. Hicks may have been unsighted but he would have had a decision to make if he had seen it because Pickering had been the last man. The Crewe youngster appeared to get away with one.
On 34 minutes, some quick interchanging of passing saw Exeter unlock the Crewe defence for the second time. Law and Taylor were involved to play in Lee Holmes but Garratt did exceptionally well to rush from his line and narrow the angle for the former England youth International. It was a decisive decision from the Alex goalkeeper who dived at Holmes’ feet to restrict his options.
Five minutes before the break, Ray tussled with Exeter’s danger man Jayden Stockley to prevent him getting a clear header on our goal and the Alex captain then cleared the corner with a powerful header. In the second phase Pickering did well to block a shot from Taylor.
The pressure was mounting though and the opening goal from the home side duly arrived three minutes before the break. It took a wonderful strike from long distance from Lee Martin to finally beat Garratt. It flew into his top right hand corner to put the Grecians ahead and Martin raced to celebrate with the bench.
In the first half, Crewe did not offer too much as an attacking force and Pym certainly wasn’t being tested enough in the wet conditions.
Exeter started the second half on the front foot and after good approach play again from Taylor and Holmes, the ball was eventually played out to Stockley inside the Crewe box but Ng stuck to his task really well to make an important block on his goal bound effort.
A forward run from Pickering allowed him to create enough space for Jones to get a shot off but he pulled it too much to really test Pym.
David Artell made his first change of the afternoon with youngster Owen Dale replacing Kirk on 50 minutes.
The excellent Ray continued to put his body on the line for the cause and he made another telling interception to halt Law and he then flew across the box to block a shot from Taylor.
Dale was soon involved in creating what was our best opportunity to date on 54 minutes. He raced down the right hand touchline and retained possession really well. Bowery then used his frame to nod down to Ainley - but the midfielder cut across the ball from the edge of the box and send it wide. He was disappointed not to have at least hit the target.
Ng hit the cross of the game to really tempt Wintle at the far post but Pierce Sweeney read the situation really well to nod behind. It was a timely interception as the Alex players formed a queue to apply the touch that would have levelled things up. It was certainly Crewe’s best period of the game with Dale certainly adding some purpose in the final third.
Another half chance fell to Ainley on 65 minutes but he couldn’t quite wrap it leg around to make a proper contact on another nod down from Bowery. The ball spun harmlessly through to Pym with the goal at his mercy.
At the other end, the lively Taylor spun an awkward cross on to the top of Garratt’s netting and the Alex goalkeeper had to watch it closely in what was now becoming quite a wind. Ray was booked for what looked a clean win of the ball on Martin and he was probably booked for his protest more than the foul. He was right to feel hard done-by.
The wind really was playing havoc and Dale nearly took advantage as he tried to put Craig Woodman under pressure. The Exeter goalkeeper came to his defender’s rescue to send it into touch. Exeter made a change with Holmes making way for Chiedozie Ogbene before Miller replaced Nicholls for Crewe.
Crewe kept plugging away to try and muster another decent chance to perhaps grab a share of the spoils. The most likely candidate to create something was young Dale, who was lively throughout with his pace and willingness to get in behind.
Exeter seemed content to hold on to their slender lead and as the minutes ticked away they were becoming more anxious due to the fact that they had not win since October. It made for an edgy last ten minutes at St. James’ Park.
Their own nerves could have eased though if Law had not miskicked a cross from Ogbene in front of the Crewe goal.
With six minutes left, Crewe produced their best passage of play to conjure up a great chance. We worked it really well from deep in our own half, with Miller starting the move off to see the ball switched and after Miller was played in, you would have backed him to score. He took his time to round Pym but with a defender retreating, he had to lift his effort and it smacked the crossbar. It looks odds on to be the equaliser our second half display probably merited.
A late change from Artell saw Finney replace Ainley but Crewe couldn’t muster a chance to rival Miller’s one and the points slipped away.With that frustration growing, Dale was booked for not winning a corner when he had and Artell was also cautioned over his protest.