Crewe lose top of the table clash in controversial circumstances
Crewe Alexandra lost their first game in eight matches, after Ryan Lowe’s Plymouth Argyle side fought back from a goal down to win 2-1 , but that didn’t tell half the story from this top of the table clash. In the end it was decided by two penalty decisions from referee Tom Nield, who for whatever reason did not see one of the most obvious trip on Stephen Walker from Callum McFazdean in the opening ten minutes. Why the on-loan Middlesbrough starlet would go to ground after placing the Plymouth full-back on his backside has to be debatable.
To compound the feeling of being hard-by, the game was decided from the penalty spot after he awarded the home side a penalty with 18 minutes remaining when Danny Mayor went down inside the box after Will Jaaskelainen had got down to save from Antoni Sarcevic. The former Alex midfielder made no mistake from the spot to seal the points for the Pilgrims.
Harry Pickering had fired Crewe into the lead after 52 minutes with a stunning curler from the edge of the box before Plymouth equalised through their inform youngster Luke Jephcott, who headed in close range from Byron Moore’s cross. Crewe will be annoyed it was a free header.
At 1-1, Chris Porter missed an open goal after Stephen Walker had drawn the Plymouth goalkeeper Alex Palmer to him and slipped it over to Crewe’s leading scorer.
Crewe had other chances to salvage something from the game that our performance over the 90 plus minutes probably deserved but Sarcevic’s coolness from the spot decided it in the Greens favour.
David Artell made one change from the side that defeated Crawley Town on Tuesday evening. Experienced midfielder Paul Green returned to the starting line-up for Oli Finney.
Crewe Alexandra were also boosted by the return of winger Daniel Powell and Chuma Anene on the substitutes' bench. Powell had not featured since picking up a slight muscle strain in the warm up ahead of our home game against Oldham Athletic and Anene didn’t complete that game after suffering a slight knock in the 2-1 win. Powell took the place of youngster Regan Griffiths, who joined Kidsgrove Athletic on loan earlier this week. Tom Lowery also didn’t make it.
The ground staff at Plymouth Argyle worked tirelessly on the pitch right up to kick-off. Their persistence paid off and the game passed a 1pm inspection to start in testing conditions caused by the much publicised ‘Storm Dennis’.
Ryan Lowe named three former Crewe players in his starting line-up with the on-loan, George Cooper, Bryon Moore and Antoni Sarcevic facing the Railwaymen and the two Grants, Joel and Conor on the bench.
In swirling wind and rain, both goalkeepers had to deal with early crosses going into the box. Will Jaaskelainen collected his with confidence and took an accidental bump off Sarcevic for his troubles. The Plymouth midfielder quickly apologised and the game resumed.
The players had to cope with the awful conditions but it meant that the ball had to be played on the floor.
After five minutes, Crewe actually had strong shout for a penalty when James Jones left the floor to pull down a cross from the right hand side and as he did so, he was certainly caught in mid-air by Josh Grant. The Alex players in close proximately had every right to ask the question of referee Tom Nield but he waved away the appeals. Grant certainly did not make any contact with the ball but caught Jones.
Plymouth’s first venture into the Crewe penalty area saw Pickering halt Moore and Sarcevic curled the follow up wide of the far post.
If the Jones penalty appeal was half debatable then the second one was a more obvious one. Stephen Walker brilliantly tricked his way past Callum McFazdean and planted him on his backside and after passing him, the full-back’s extended leg and then his hand caught the on-loan Middlesbrough youngster. The Alex players were even more vocal with their appeals but again nothing was given. Green let the protests and understandably so.
A quick opening to the game also saw Moore have a close range tap in ruled out for offside and Cooper also rifled a free-kick just over Jaaskelainen’s crossbar.
Another promising attack from the Alex then saw a low delivery from Kirk just evade Porter and then the sliding Walker at the far post. Moments later, a fine run from Porter into the right channel saw him find Jones inside the box and his low cross was just ahead of the rushing Green. He was close to reaching it and side footing it home.
The rain continued to lash Home Park but credit to the two teams, who continued to play some football in the testing conditions.
Crewe continued to press and forced a succession of corners, with Luke Offord going closest with a flick header from just outside of the six yard box. It took a deflection off Moore and out the other side for another.
On 34 minutes, a lay off from Kirk in the centre of the pitch found Green and he quickly fed Walker out on the right. He squared up to McFazdean and perhaps should have run at him, but he elected to get the ball out of his feet and shoot wide. It continued to be a fairly open affair with both sides offering a threat on the counter attack.
A few minutes later, Plymouth had a penalty appeal of their own when their captain, Joe Edwards got in a tangle with Pickering but the referee sided with the Crewe left-back and awarded us the free-kick instead.
Crewe finished the half with the greater number of touches on the football but the final ball, usually aimed for Walker, was just carrying too much in the wind and the ball went out on a number of occasions for goal kicks. It was tricky with the swirling wind going right across the pitch for the majority of the first 45 minutes. It didn’t relent in the second half either.
After Cooper had tripped Walker close to the touchline, Jones whipped over a splendid delivery into a crowded penalty area and Nottingham and then Walker went close to getting something decisive on it. Almost immediately, a forceful run from Ng saw him slip Walker in behind but on this occasion his low cross was cut out by McFazdean before it could reach a well-positioned Kirk.
Crewe’s early pressure in the second half told with Pickering’s wonderful strike after 52 minutes. A really patient build-up saw us retain position and switch the play from left to right. Crewe had a couple of opportunities to swing a cross over through Ng and Walker but we kept it.
The ball eventually found Pickering and after he threatened to lift it into the box, he curled it accurately past Josh Grant and then the Pilgrim goalkeeper for a priceless opener. It was the defender’s third goal of the season. It was another great strike from the Academy graduate.
The Alex skipper, Ng, went awfully close when his low drive just cleared the left hand post and appeared to take a nick off a Plymouth defender en route but we didn’t get the corner either.
Plymouth had to weather that early storm and with their first genuine attack of the second half, they drew level five minutes later. Moore raced down the Crewe left hand side and his cross into the box seemed to hang in the wind and an unmarked Luke Jephcott headed home from close range. The Alex defence had granted the youngster far too much space and he made no mistake with a firm header past Jaaskelainen but the wind seemed to play its part.
The equalising goal seemed to spark the home side into life, especially as an attacking force, but a real positive break from the Railwaymen saw Kirk fire into the side netting from a restricted angle.
Offord was booked for sliding into Sarcevic close to the touchline and Jaaskelainen had to monitor Danny Mayor’s free-kick. He did exceeding well to push it away from under his bar.
On 66 minutes, Crewe were presented with a great chance to go back ahead. A defensive mix-up allowed Walker to have possession unintended and race into the Plymouth box and he calmly checked back to avoid the challenge of Scott Wootton and as goalkeeper, Palmer raced from his line to oppose him, he rolled it across to Porter for a tap-in. With the goal at his mercy, Porter must have thought he had scored before he even had time to think about but his connection saw him pull it wide of the target. You would have put all your chips on Ports scoring.
Then on 72 minutes, Plymouth took the lead. Mayor, who had been relatively quiet all afternoon glided into the box and found Sarcevic. His low drive was pushed out by Jaaskelainen and in the follow up, Mayor went down under a challenge from Ng (we think) and this time, referee Neild pointed to the spot. Crewe protested but after that had died down, Sarcevic fired the home side in front from the spot.
David Artell made an instant change with Dale replacing Walker. That was quickly countered by Lowe, who withdrew McFazdean for Tyreeq Bakinson.
Two more changes, saw Cooper replaced by Ryan Hardie and Callum Ainley replace Kirk.
The final throw of the Crewe dice saw Chuma Anene replace Green. Jephcott also made way for Joel Grant.
As the minutes ticked away, substitute Hardie had a shot blocked by Nottingham. Anene likewise for Crewe as we packed the Plymouth box.
Wintle forced Palmer into a good save with a great effort from distance.
The best chance to salvage what would have been a deserved point saw a shot into the ground from Pickering bounce up and hit the post.
Plymouth with the last attack of the game could have made it 3-1 when Hardie’s low drive went through the legs of Jaaskelainen but he managed to scramble back and hook it off the line.