Stalemate at the New Lane with Alex conjuring up two best chances.
Crewe Alexandra narrowly missed the opportunity to return to the top of Sky Bet League Two following a goalless draw at the New Lawn this evening. Crewe Alexandra remain third in the table following a real tactical contest against Mark Cooper’s Forest Green Rovers side.
Only a coat of paint on a Forest Green post prevented Crewe from leapfrogging Forest Green and Swindon to the top of League Two. Ryan Wintle’s splendid hit from the edge of the penalty area brushed the forehead of Chris Porter on its way to goal and the forward was mightily unlucky to see it hit the inside of the woodwork and rebound to safety for the home side.
That was the best opportunity in a cagey but entertaining affair.
Leading scorer, Porter, also had the best chance of the first half but his attempted chip over Joe Wollacott cleared the far post. If it had been on target it would have broken the deadlock because Wollacott had strangely got himself into a strange position out of his goal.
In truth, Will Jaaskelainen was not forced into any meaningful saves on what was a relatively quiet night for him. Forest Green’s best chance fell to full-back Dom Bernard but the Alex stopper was well placed to fist his near post effort behind for a corner.
The top of the table clash between the two footballing sides had to be re-arranged this evening after our original date was postponed back in October due to the torrential downpour of rain we experienced on the morning of the game. We actually had another deluge ahead of kick off tonight but the game was never in doubt on this occasion.
David Artell made two changes from the side that convincingly defeated Morecambe 5-0 on Saturday. Two-goal hero Oli Finney was demoted back to the substitutes’ bench in favour of the more experienced Paul Green.
The other alteration for the trip to the New Lawn saw a recall for the fit-again Eddie Nolan following his recent ankle and calf niggles. The Irishman had missed the last three games but had been an unused substitute away at Northampton.
An early burst of pace and tricky from Owen Dale saw him win an early free-kick in a decent position for the Alex, but Harry Pickering’s drilled shot took a solid deflection off the body of a defender and deflected away to safety. Dale had shown that he had the electric pace to trouble wing-back Liam Kitching and he was the source of our early attacks, racing past him on a number of occasions but he couldn’t quite pick out a gold shirt.
Forest Green’s first venture into the Crewe half saw Dom Bernard and Joseph Mills combine down the Crewe left hand side and as the ball was crossed low into our six yard box, the Alex skipper Perry Ng had positioned himself perfectly to clear the ensuing danger for a corner before Matty Stevens could help himself to a tap-in. Forest Green packed the six yard box, closing in on Will Jaaskelainen but Crewe stood firm and clear their lines with purpose.
Forest Green continued to be neat and tidy with their passing when they had possession, but Crewe certainly dominated the ball. Forest Green dropped off and let Crewe enjoy the ball in our half of the pitch and going into the centre-circle. The home side were content to play on the counter-attack or pinch the ball from a mistake.
An intriguing encounter continued to be a tight chess-like affair but Green did have a shot blocked inside a crowded penalty area after Dale had once again won a corner from the right. The winger then pounced on a mistake in the centre of the pitch to run at the heart of the Forest Green defence, but he just overrun it slightly and that allowed Joe Wollacott to race from his line and smother the ball at his feet. Crewe had to keep on feeding Dale.
The best chance of the early passages of play arrived on 25 minutes. Forest Green once again surrendered possession in the centre of the pitch and Wintle instantly played it forward to Porter. For some reason, Wollacott had vacated his line and was caught in no-man’s land. Porter shuffled the ball from his feet and managed to lift it over the head of the helpless keeper but it drifted wide of the far post. If it had been on target, it would have most certainly been the lead for Crewe.
Forest Green then burst into some life in the final third and an excellent cross from Liam Shephard found Stevens at the far post but his diving header was blocked by the well placed Ng again. The Crewe captain also had to clear a dangerous looking free-kick coming in from playmaker Mills.
With Mills’s quality form deadballs, Crewe had to wary of conceding needless free-kicks that allowed them to send in some tantalising deliveries but we were standing firm at set-pieces.
Five minutes before the half time interval, Nolan and Hunt dealt with Stevens as he threatened to race into the Crewe penalty area after we had presented him with the opportunity with a short pass. Hunt held him up and Nolan pinched the ball from his foot.
Dale’s trickery won another free-kick close to the by-line and that one resulted in Kitching becoming the first player to be booked on the night.
Forest Green’s best chance of the half came in first half stoppage time with wing-back Bernard stealing in behind Kirk, but his near post shot was comfortably dealt with by Jaaskelainen. The Finland Under-21 goalkeeper restricted the player’s angle and he fisted it behind for a corner. He then came and collected it unopposed.
The home side came out at the beginning of the second half and tried to get on the ball a lot more bit Crewe soon settled back into their rhythm.
A sublime flick from Kirk though sent Green racing down the left hand and his cross nearly found Porter but Wollacott timed leaving his line to collect it ahead of the Crewe forward.
Rawson was booked for a foul on Porter but the free-kick was cleared. Crewe continued to press and we just needed that final ball of class to unlock a stubborn Forest Green backline.
It was so nearly unlocked on 54 minutes after Ng glided past Bernard with ease to find Wintle on the edge of the box and the midfielder did not hesitate to unleash from the edge of the box. It appeared to take a slight deflection off the forehead of Porter and smacked the inside of the post before bouncing clear. It was a wonderful effort that deserved better.
Forest Green tried to muster a chance of their own but Nolan did enough to put Stevens out of his stride as he tried to get his head onto a cross from Kitching. Ebou Adams also struck high over the Crewe crossbar after his robust but fair challenge saw him rob Wintle of possession.
The cagey but high quality affair continued with Crewe on the front foot but it was difficult to break down the Forest Green defence. When we did, like through Green, he was fouled and Matt Mills was booked.
Crewe had to remain patient and wait for those possible openings but also remain disciplined in our defending.
With 20 minutes remaining, Mark Cooper made his first change with Matt Mills being replaced by Junior Mondal.
Five minutes later, Crewe were forced into a switch with Hunt going down with a muscle injury. Christian Mbulu replaced him. Mondal sportingly returned the ball to us from the throw-in.
The second change from Dave Artell came moments later, with Powell on for Kirk. Aaron Collins also replaced Jack Aitchison.
With the minutes ticking away, James Jones replaced a tiring Tom Lowery. All the changes had been completed.
Crewe’s best late chance saw Dale flick a Pickering cross towards goal but the Forest Green goalkeeper had it covered and allowed it to bounce harmlessly wide. It was defences on top this evening as Crewe pick up a useful point against one of our main promotion rivals.