Boxing Day loss for Alex after conceding two early goals
Crewe Alexandra suffered only their sixth defeat of the League Two season as Graham Alexander’s side inflicted a 3-1 Boxing Day defeat.
After actually making a fast start to the game, the Alex saw themselves 2-0 down inside the opening 12 minutes. Richie Towell hit a fantastic shot past Will Jaaskelainen to open the scoring and the lively Brandon Thomas-Asante soon made it two after he had evaded the close intentions of the recalled Christian Mbulu, who came in for the injured Eddie Nolan. Thomas-Asante made no mistake after racing clear to go one-on-one with the Alex goalkeeper.
Crewe certainly rallied in the closing stages of the second half and after Perry Ng had seen his well struck effort tipped onto the crossbar by Chris Neal, our pressure grew. Neal was also called upon to deny the likes of Daniel Powell and Chuma Anene before Harry Pickering finally beat him with an excellent strike that gave him no chance.
With three minutes remaining and substantial injury time still to be played that Pickering goal should have caused a grandstand finish in front of almost 1,200 Crewe fans – but barely 90 seconds later, we didn’t defend a corner well enough and the ball hit Wintle at the far post to cross the line for 3-1 and mark a miserable Boxing Day for the Railwaymen.
Crewe Alexandra boss David Artell was forced into a change at the back with Christian Mbulu recalled to the starting line-up due to a slight injury to Eddie Nolan. The Irishman has been struggling with a back injury over the last few days but it is hoped it is not too serious.
Veteran midfielder Paul Green was ill so he wasn’t named in the 18-man squad. Defenders Rio Adebisi and Billy Sass-Davies were named on the bench to take the number of homegrown talent in the squad to 12.
Backed by a fantastic following in the away end at the Peninsula Stadium, David Artell’s side kicked off this Boxing Day fixture. Crewe forced an early corner following a fast start from Lowery and Powell and from the resulting delivery from the right hand side, Mbulu, relatively free, glanced a header wide from a decent position.
Moments later, a searching ball into the box from Lowery was just too high for Chuma Anene to make a significant contact and guide it goalwards. It was a promising start from the Railwaymen so therefore it was a touch against the run of play that the home side took the lead after just 8 minutes.
Crewe surrendered possession too cheaply and as soon as the shot left Richie Towell’s boot from the edge of the penalty area, it looked like beating Will Jaaskelainen. It was some hit.
Moments later, Towell had a chance to double the lead but his poked effort on the run was wide on this occasion. Crewe couldn’t afford to give Towell too many opportunities to shoot from distance, especially in the wet conditions.
The opening goal for Salford certainly saw them settle down and operate more in our half of the pitch and just four minutes later they doubled their advantage.
Christian Mbulu tried to intercept possession and looked to be slightly impeded as he went to win the ball over Brandon Thomas-Asante, but referee Peter Wright allowed the play to continue and Thomas-Asante freed himself to race through and go one-on-one with the Alex goalkeeper. He slotted confidently past a helpless Jaaskelainen and Crewe were 2-0 down.
Joey Jones was booked for the home side for a rather reckless challenge towards left-back Pickering. The Alex defender sprung up quickly to do him a favour but Jones was rightly cautioned.
Ryan Wintle tried to get the Alex going with a forceful run through the centre of the pitch and he found Kirk in enough space out on the left for him to cut inside and produce a shot that was blocked and Pickering couldn’t keep his follow up effort down enough to test Chris Neal for the first time. It sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
Salford were a threat though when the ball found Towell in shooting range. With the wet surface, he was entitled to shoot whenever he had a sight of the Crewe goal and another terrific effort from the midfielder on the half an hour mark had to be pushed away by Jaaskelainen. The lively Thomas-Asante was also a menace to the Crewe back four with his directness and Crewe could ill-afford to concede another before the half time interval.
A great passing move on 33 minutes saw Lowery find Kirk and his perfect pass released the overlapping Finney but his short cross into the six yard box was cut out by Salford’s captain Liam Hogan. It was better from Crewe in an attacking sense and good defending from the home side.
The Salford goalkeeper Chris Neal was booked for time wasting as we headed towards the break, as was full-back Ibou Touray at a throw-in. Crewe needed to lift the tempo because it was suiting Salford far too much. Even the Salford boss, Graham Alexander, was booked for something he said.
Powell was the first Crewe player to be booked for a foul on Jake Jervis as he attempted to help out Ng behind him.
Understandably Salford were content to hit Crewe on the counter-attack and we survived a dangerous situation from our own corner after Craig Conway broke at pace but couldn’t find a supportive team-mate. The switch was on if we had been aware of it.
Crewe also had a half chance after Kirk and Pickering got joy down the left but the ball wouldn’t come down quickly enough for Finney and moments later, he shot wide from a good position.
Crewe needed to raise the tempo second half and threaten Neal’s goal more, certainly with the advantage of a wet and zipping surface.
Mbulu was replaced at the break with Artell making an attacking switch. Wintle moved back to centre-half and James Jones was introduced as Crewe went in search of the goal that could change the whole complexion of this game.
Crewe’s first sight of the Salford goal saw Powell find Kirk and whilst using the over lapping run of Pickering as a decoy, the Alex winger curled his effort just wide. It raised the Alex contingent behind that goal.
Adam Rooney had an unbelievable chance to make it 3-0 when he got in between Wintle and Hunt but he directed his free header straight at Jaaskelainen. It was an almighty let off for the Alex and Rooney knew he should have scored.
After Thomas-Asante shot straight at the Crewe goalkeeper from 25 yards out, they made their first change with Danny Whitehead replacing Joey Jones.
David Artell made a double change with just over 20 minutes remaining with Ainley and Dale replacing Finney and Kirk. Powell switched over to the left with Dale on the right hand side.
Pickering worked the Salford goalkeeper with a firm drive that he had push behind for a corner. From the corner there was a huge shout from the Alex fans for a potential penalty and the ball didn’t quite drop kindly for Anene or Dale and Salford survived a period of unease.
Ainley and Dale certainly added some pace and directness down the flanks as we went in search of that goal that would have made for an interesting closing period. Ainley certainly carried the ball forward for the Alex more often than anyone.
After Lowery gave a stray pass away in the centre of the pitch, Craig Conway didn’t take full advantage of the numbers ahead of him and after electing to go on his own, his shot sailed over the crossbar. Rooney was then replaced by Luke Armstrong.
With just over ten minutes remaining, Crewe produced arguably their best move of the game. There was a clutch of players involved in and around the Salford penalty area with Lowery and Anene having touches before it was shifted to captain Ng. He couldn’t have struck his shot any better and Neal had to produce an outstanding save to touch it on his crossbar and over. Ng couldn’t believe he had been denied his first goal of the season and give Crewe a passage back into the game.
Neal was again called into action to push a shot from Powell into the side netting and Dale only needed a connection at the far post as Crewe began to finish strongly, it was no surprise that the hard working Thomas-Asante was replaced for the more defensive Carl Piergianni.
The Salford goalkeeper produced another stunning save to deny Anene after he had flicked the ball up and volleyed it on the turn. It was a stunning save.
Crewe kept pressing and that goal finally came with just over three minutes remaining. Defender Pickering finally beat the inspired Neal with a sweet strike that gave the Salford stopper no chance on this occasion.
The Alex had something to really chase now but another wayward pass out from the back from Jones saw Jervis have a shot deflected behind for a corner. Any hope of a dramatic comeback ended at that set piece. It was so easy as it reached the far post and facing his own goal, Wintle could only poke it into his own net for 3-1. Crewe’s hopes of a Boxing Day point were over. It so annoying because we had chucked away our chance of a real grandstand finish infront of the travelling fans.
There was still time for Salford to hit their own post with a back header and that just about summed up our afternoon as Neal dropped on the ball.