Crewe: Garratt, Whelan, O'Connor (Hunt, 81), Ray, Ng, Pickering, Wintle (Jones, 60), Kirk, Ainley, Miller, Bowery (Porter, 69)
Unused Subs: Richards, Raynes, Finney, Nicholls
Goals: Bowery (61)
Attendance: 2,164 (TBC Crewe)
Crewe Alexandra recorded their first away win of the season in League Two thanks to a wonderfully taken goal from Jordan Bowery. The Alex striker collected a pass from substitute James Jones before bending an inch perfect shot with the outside of his foot into Seny Dieng’s top corner. The Stevenage goalkeeper never moved, such was the pure quality of the finish.
Crewe were given an almighty hand in the game after our former defender Ben Nugent was sent off after 12 minutes for a pull back and grab on Shaun Miller, as the Crewe forward looked to race clear on goal. Nugent was the last man and after consulting his assistant, referee Craig Hicks showed the centre-half a red card.
Crewe had other chances to make the points even more safe with Dieng certainly the busier of the two goalkeepers on the day. He saved superbly to deny Jones and fellow substitute Chris Porter also hit the foot of the Stevenage post after being found by Charlie Kirk.
When he was called upon, Garratt was alert and bravely saved at the feet of Kurtis Guthrie and match winner Bowery made a fantastic block tackle to deny Alex Revell before he was forced off with an injury.
Corey Whelan returned from International duty with the Republic of Ireland’s Under-21s to regain his place at right-back. There was also a change at left-back with Kevin O’Connor recalled to David Artell’s starting line-up. O’Connor’s return prompted a change of position for the versatile Harry Pickering, who was moved further forward into a central midfield position.
There was also a change up front with Shaun Miller coming in for Chris Porter, to partner Jordan Bowery in attack as Crewe reverted back to a 4-4-2 formation to match up with the home side.
The changes resulted in Nicky Hunt and James Jones joining Porter on a strong looking Crewe bench.
The Stevenage side contained the former Crewe Alexandra defender Ben Nugent in their stating XI but it wouldn’t be an afternoon to remember for him.
The home side are renowned fast starters though and they immediately put Crewe on the back foot. A forceful run from Jamal Campbell –Ryce in the opening minute saw his cross headed out by George Ray but the ball was kept alive and Ben Garratt was forced into his first save when standing tall at his near post to save from Kurtis Guthrie.
After just three minutes, the lively winger Campbell-Ryce forced the Crewe goalkeeper into his second meaningful save with a forceful drive from the edge of the box. Garratt watched it well to push it behind for a second corner to the home side.
As expected, youngster Callum Ainley made his 100th league appearance for the club, and he was soon involved in Crewe’s best moments in the early part of the game. He tried his luck in a foot race with full-back Steve Seddon but the defender did well to recover and clear any potential danger.
On 12 minutes, there was a massive decision to be made by referee Craig Hicks after Miller got the wrong side of Nugent. The former Alex defender certainly tugged back the Crewe forward as he threatened to go through on goal. It was reactive and his hands were certainly on him as he threatened to run in behind him.
To his credit, the official consulted his assistant and after being informed that there was no covering defender, he showed Nugent the red card. Nugent led the protests but was soon heading towards the tunnel.
From the resulting free-kick, it was worked for Kirk to have a strike at goal but his powerful effort was blocked.
With the home fans up in arms about the red card, Ainley was understandably booked for a daft tackle. It was again the correct decision as the game looked like slipping away with the charged atmosphere for a few minutes.
With the extra man, Crewe began to enjoy the better of the possession and were inviting the full-backs to push on. A cross from Kevin O’Connor saw Harry Pickering not connect properly and then Jordan Bowery had a shot blocked by Seddon after a trick had made him a yard of space.
Crewe kept passing the ball and being patient in their approach. A tremendous effort from Miller saw his drive from 25 yards just clear Seny Dieng’s crossbar. The Stevenage goalkeeper certainly had to shuffle across to monitor its movement. Moments later, Pickering shot low into the gloves of the goalkeeper.
Stevenage made a tactical change after 26 minutes with winger Campbell-Ryce sacrificed for the more defensive John Hunt. The crosses continued to enter the Stevenage box with a Kirk ball just ahead of Bowery. Kirk was certainly growing in influence down the Stevenage right hand side and was linking up well with O’Connor.
At the other end the dangerous Ben Kennedy was a threat with his desire to get into our box at any opportunity. The wide man earned the home side two corners with his crosses that were blocked. Alex Revell also dragged a shot wide after Kennedy had made a nuisance of himself up against Whelan and Pickering.
Crewe continued to press and probe but we couldn’t just find that killer through ball or cross that would open them up. Dieng did well when intercepting a couple of low crosses into his six yard box and centre-half Scott Cuthbert headed a lot of balls out of the Stevenage box.
As we edged towards half time, Stevenage created their best opening down the Crewe left hand side but Garratt rushed from his line to save bravely at the feet of Guthrie. The towering Stevenage striker then headed, unmarked against the Crewe crossbar but it appeared the assistant had already raised his flag for an offside.
Moments later, Ainley produced the most tempting of crosses and he was understandably irked that three of his team-mates didn’t get a touch on it as it flashed across the box.
Crewe did have the ball in the Stevenage net before the break but captain George Ray was penalised for a push on Guthrie at the far post following a corner from the right. Again it looked the correct decision.
Deep into injury time, Ainley tricked his way to a free-kick from Joel Byrom but from the resultant free-kick, Dieng punched clear and Ainley had his follow up blocked by a melee of bodies ahead of him.
At the beginning of the second half, Crewe began with some real thoughtful passing to move the ball forward but Pickering’s final shot was lifted way over the Stevenage crossbar. Moments later, Miller did likewise when curling one over but it was encouraging that Crewe were prepared to get shots off with a glimpse of the Stevenage goal.
Ng then had a low drive deflected inches wide for an early corner and more good pressure from Crewe saw Charlie Kirk half volley an effort a yard wide. It was a more tricky chance after it bounced up on him at the edge of the box. Good, decisive start from the Alex though.
Crewe were dominating the ball and only a timely interception at the far post prevented Bowery from reaching a chipped up cross from Pickering. The Alex striker then had a better chance blocked inside the six yard box after a forceful run and cut back from Corey Whelan.
In search of that decisive first goal, Artell made a change with James Jones replacing Wintle. Jones’ first touch saw him play it down the right to find Bowery and after checking his bearings, he bend a wonderful shot with his outside of the foot into the top corner. It was his fourth goal of the campaign, and by some distance his best. It was a wonderful finish.
Bowery then showed his defensive abilities by making a superb last ditch block to deny Alex Revell at the far post. It was timely to say the least with Revell eyeing an equaliser.
Crewe also lived very dangerously to another cross going across our box and this time Guthrie must have thought he had scored after connecting at the far post but O’Connor was there to block it on the line!
Bowery was then forced off with an injury, to be replaced by Porter.
From a Pickering corner, Ray ran and dummied it to allow Jones to come onto it perfectly and he must have thought he had scored after making such a connection, only to see the busy Dieng push it over.
Crewe needed a killer second goal and after Kirk had broken away into space down the left hand side, his perfect cross found Porter. He controlled it perfectly on his chest, took a touch and his low shot hit the foot of the post. Kirk reacted to the rebound and his low cross was then deflected into the gloves of Deing on the line.
At the other end, the covering Jones had to track the run of full-back Luther Wildin. He did enough to get there at the death and put him off enough as he set to pull the trigger. Kirk was booked for dissent before a tiring O’Connor was replaced by Nicky Hunt.
Stevenage, to their great credit had a real go as the minutes ticking away. Garratt again raced from his line to save at the studs of Guthrie.
Crewe were a threat on the counter attack and had a great chance to kill it when Pickering broke away to set up a 3 v 1 situation in the 88th minute. He chose Miller, instead of Ainley,and the striker was denied a goal on his return to the team by the busier Dieng.
With five minutes of stoppage time to get through, Pickering threw himself at a deep cross to put Cuthbert off and Crewe started to retain some possession to kill the time.
Crewe Alexandra recorded their first win on the road against a Stevenage side that had started the day in the play-off places. Nugent’s eearly red card hardly helped them this afternoon.