Crewe: Garratt, Whelan, O'Connor (Finney, 86), Ng, Ray, Wintle, Jones (Pickering, 71), Ainley, Porter (Nicholls, 86), Kirk, Bowery
Unused Subs: Richards, Raynes, Miller, Hunt
Attendance: 8,718 (173 Crewe)
Crewe Alexandra must still wait for their first away of the season after going down 1-0 to league leaders Lincoln City this afternoon. Crewe defended solidly for large periods of the game and we restricted the home side to just a handful of half chances, but the deadlock was finally broken in the 58 minute by Imps substitute Tom Pett.
Just minutes after replacing Harry Anderson, Crewe didn’t clear their box as well as they had been doing and substitute Pett’s powerful shot from inside the box had too much on it to defeat Ben Garratt. The Crewe goalkeeper got a strong hand on it but it had too much on it and would eventually cross the line.It was a frustrating goal to concede in a game short on genuine chances.
With seven minutes left, Garratt also guessed right to save a Lee Frecklington penalty to keep Crewe in the game in the closing stages.
Crewe’s best chances of the game saw Corey Whelan force Josh Vickers into a smart save with a low drive and Charlie Kirk side-footed straight at the Lincoln goalkeeper after being picked out at the far post by Whelan.
Perry Ng passed a morning fitness test on his slight ankle injury and was immediately recalled to the starting line-up. Ng missed Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Swindon Town after going over on his ankle in training the previous day.
His understudy, Nicky Hunt performed admirably at centre-half and he was unfortunate to not start again at Sincil Bank – but Ng has been one of our most consistent performers and had been an ever present until Tuesday night.
There was also a major boost on the substitutes’ bench with Harry Pickering deemed fit enough to travel to Lincoln. Pickering recently returned from the hamstring tear he sustained away at Colchester United. A strong Crewe bench meant there was no place for Tom Lowery nor young forward Lewis Reilly.
Lincoln City welcomed back our former midfielder Michael O’Connor from injury. The former Northern Ireland International joined the Imps in the summer and was celebrating his 31st birthday.
Lincoln City made a fast start from the kick off, but Bruno Andrade’s early cross from the right was just a touch high for the man-mountain John Akinde to reach it. Moments later, a grounded Kevin O’Connor did exceptionally well to halt Akinde as he threatened to find enough space to get a shot off.
Chris Porter looked to have broken the Lincoln offside trap to go through on to a perfect pass from James Jones, but the assistant referee quickly ended his chances of lifting it over an advancing Josh Vickers by raising his flag. It looked a tight call when the ball was played, but Porter didn’t persist with his protest for too long.
Akinde continued to be the focal point of Lincoln’s attacking ideas but the Alex captain George Ray was standing well to his physicality. Ng was also often free to bring the ball into the Lincoln half of the pitch.
A fine move from the Alex involving Bowery and the advanced Whelan gave the on-loan Liverpool full-back an opportunity to shoot from distance, but his shot was blocked and broke back to Bowery. He quickly slipped it to Jones and his wicked cross into a crowded box just evaded Kirk at the far post.
Crewe were beginning to get a grip of the possession and on more than one occasion just needed to demonstrate a bit more care with the final ball or cross. There were certainly openings in the final third if we had passed more accurately with Ainley roaming into some really useful pockets of space.
Lincoln captain Lee Frecklington was the first player to be booked for a robust challenge into the back of Wintle. The referee deemed it too forceful as he seemed to scissor the player as he attempted to win possession back for the home side. Wintle needed some treatment on his foot soon after but was able to continue.
On the half an hour mark, Harry Toffolo managed to tackle Ng close to the touchline and he instantly found Akinde just inside the Crewe penalty area, but the Lincoln forward could not keep his half volley down enough to trouble Garratt for the first time. A minute later, a sliding tackle from Ray did enough to put Akinde off as he aimed to reach Neil Eardley’s low cross. The Alex captain got ahead of his man to put it behind for the first corner of the game. Ray was Crewe’s most impressive performer in the first period.
On 39 minutes, Ng was also booked for a sliding tackle close to the touchline and from the resulting free-kick; Crewe had the reflexes of their goalkeeper to thank for not conceding the opening goal.
As the cross entered a crowded penalty area, Porter inadvertently headed the ball backwards towards his own goal. Harry Anderson had gambled to apply a touch on it from all of three yards out and must have thought he had scored - but somehow Garratt got something on it to turn it around for a corner. It was a wonderful save from the Alex goalkeeper. It was comfortably the best chance of the first half.
Crewe had to defend a couple of corners and high balls going into the penalty area but we stood up to it well to go in level at the interval.
At the start of the second half, Crewe made a bright start and with a bit more luck both Bowery and then Ainley could have been through on goal after two searching passes nearly found them inside the Lincoln penalty area. With the wet surface, the ball just raced away from them.
A clever free-kick from the home side was then whipped down the side of the Crewe back four but Shay McCartan didn’t apply enough of a touch to trouble Garratt.
Lincoln made their first change with Tom Pett replacing Anderson and he made an instant impact with the opening goal on 58 minutes.
Crewe were forced back from a corner and after failing to clear the danger properly, the ball eventually fell to Pett who hit it powerfully enough to beat Garratt. The Crewe goalkeeper seemed to get a strong hand on it but couldn’t get enough on it to prevent it from crossing the line. After defending so well, for so long, it was a frustrating goal to concede.
Crewe tried to hit back from a Jones free-kick but the ball got stuck under the feet of Bowery and then Ainley, but the ball was kept alive and Whelan forced Vickers into his first meaningful save with a well struck effort from distance. The Lincoln goalkeeper did well to get down and push it behind for a corner.
Danny Cowley made his second substitution of the afternoon when bringing on Matt Green for Akinde. Crewe then had a let off after a cross from Andrade seemed to hit the trailing hand of Ng but the referee pointed for only a corner.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, Artell made his first change with Pickering replacing Jones. Almost immediately, an excellent cross from Whelan from the right found Kirk coming in from the left hand side but he side footed straight at Vickers.
At the other end, Garratt pulled off another good stop to push away a well struck shot from Andrade. Pickering’s first contribution saw him pick out Kirk at the far post and he was a little unlucky not to see his cushioned pull-back find a Crewe shirt.
Lincoln’s final change saw Matt Rhead replace McCarten on 77 minutes. Fellow sub Matt Green so nearly reached a dangerous cross from Andrade
In the 83rd minute, Lincoln were presented with the perfect chance to make it 2-0 when they were awarded a penalty. Some indecision between Garratt and O’Connor saw neither of them deal with the problem of Andrade and O’Connor was caught out and felled the winger close to the by-line. Garratt made amends for his judgement to run back towards his own goal by saving Lee Frecklington’s penalty kick. It kept Crewe in the contest.
After Ray had headed a corner down and into the gloves of Vickers, Artell made a double change with Nicholls and Finney replacing O’Connor and Porter.
In the closing minutes, Crewe were making the home side and their crowd a bit jittery. With three minutes left a free-kick from Pickering was eventually cleared from a crowded box.
With five minutes of stoppage time, Crewe's best hope of forcing a draw saw Ray denied a header by Vickers and Whelan's low drive from the follow up corner was blocked.