Crewe Alexandra returned to the top of the League Two table with a comfortable 3-1 win over bottom side Stevenage. The Railwaymen cruised to the three points with an 8th straight home win thanks to Chris Porter’s 14th goal of the season in the first half and two more from Charlie Kirk and Ryan Wintle in the second half.
It puts Crewe top by one goal ahead of Swindon but the Robins have a goal in hand.
The only downside on a perfect day at the Alexandra Stadium was the late consolation goal drilled home by Charlie Carter in the final minute. Like our encounter at the Lamex Stadium back in December, Crewe surrendered another nailed on clean-sheet. Stevenage had hardly tested Will Jaaskelainen all afternoon.
Crewe Alexandra boss David Artell made two changes to the side that drew 1-1 away at Exeter City. Callum Ainley made his first start since Scunthorpe United on 25th January and Charlie Kirk also returned after being used as an impact substitute at St James’ Park on Tuesday evening. Stephen Walker and Paul Green dropped to the substitutes’ bench for the visit of the league’s bottom club.
The former Crewe defender, Ben Nugent, started for the visitors in what was Alex Revell’s second game in charge. 4
Crewe were quickly on the front foot and a cross from Daniel Powell clipped the Stevenage crossbar in the opening minutes. Another early half chance saw James Jones and his captain Perry Ng combine and his firm shot from 20 yards was well collected by Paul Farman in the Stevenage goal.
After Ng was adjusted to have tripped the lively youngster Daniel Kemp, the visitors complained that Charlie Carter had been fouled as he tried to get on the end of the free-kick but the referee was well placed and waved away the appeals.
The game became a bit stop-start with Stevenage taking their time over throw-ins and set pieces and that tried to disrupt Crewe’s rhythm but we were quickly back at it and the opening goal duly arrived on 15 minutes.
Kirk waited for Jones to move into position down the left and his inch perfect centre found the head of leading scorer Porter and his downward header deceived Farman with the bounce off the post. It was Porter’s 14th goal of the season and helped Crewe settle back down.
Porter was then ruled offside after Kirk had found him inside the six yard box. Porter’s flick hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced out but the assistant had raised his flag relatively quickly.
Stevenage ventured forward on occasions with some purpose and their best opportunity of the first half fell to Elliott List but his close range effort was blocked by Ng. Full-back, Luther James-Wildin fired over ambitiously from distance.
Crewe looked the more likely to score again though. A Pickering corner was touched on by Nottingham and another tough from a Crewe body would have resulted in the second goal surely. Stevenage just about scrambled it away from the foot of the post.
Kirk swapped wings for a moment and after he had controlled the cross field pass with aplomb, his shot at the near post was well saved by the busier Farman. From the resultant corner, Offord had the opportunity to perhaps register his first senior goal but he lashed over after the ball dropped for him.
Crewe continued to press looking for a second goal before the half time interval and another flowing move, this time involving Ainley and then Kirk saw Powell side foot into the side netting from a tight angle.
Stevenage lost Jake Cassidy before the break through injury and he was replaced by the experienced Craig Mackail-Smith but the visitors failed to draw a save from Will Jaaskelainen in the first period.
Perry Ng went close to netting with a diving header from an early Pickering corner in the opening minutes of the second half.
Kirk excelled again when he skipped past Paul Digby close to the half way line before forcing Farman into a smart save with his legs. From the corner, Ng had a slight chance at the far post but nodded down and Stevenage cleared.
Kirk was tormenting James-Wildin and he laid off a chance for Jones to fire at Farman from the edge of the box. It was only a matter of time.
Stevenage’s first shot on target came from Charlie Lakin but it was straight at the Crewe number one. They introduced Ben Kennedy for Dean Parrett and he brought some creativity up the pitch for the visitors.
Then a loose ball and rare mistake from Offord presented Stevenage with a really good chance to draw level. The ball into Ainley in midfield put him under instant pressure and after they pinched it, List was given a sight at the Crewe goal but Offord recovered well to make a challenge and prevent him getting a clean shot off.
On 63 minutes, Crewe carved Stevenage open to make it 2-0. Ainley and Kirk combined and his simple pass through to Wintle allowed him to simply waltz to the by-line and then pull it back perfectly for Kirk to side foot home his 9th goal of the season. Farman got some of his gloves on it but couldn’t keep it out at his near post.
The cushion of the second goal was well deserved and a third was not long in coming. On 67 minutes, a forceful burst from Ryan Wintle saw him find Kirk and he simply rolled it back to the midfielder on the edge of the box and his deflected effort looped up, hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced over the line.
Crewe were cruising to victory and the 4,263 supporters inside the Alexandra Stadium were enjoying themselves. Perhaps a touch of complacency crept in to our play during the closing stages but there didn’t appear any danger of us conceding.
David Artell wisely made three changes with Owen Dale, Oli Finney and Chuma Anene all coming on. Dale had a late chance to secure his first of the season after he was given a sight of goal but was surrounded by Stevenage defenders and they got enough on it to make a good block.
Anene also had a late chance to round out the scoring but he couldn’t quite sort his feet out and the opportunity was lost.
The only downside was a little sloppiness in our play in the final 10 minutes and we were punished for it in the final minute when Carter’s drilled home consolation ended our hopes of a clean-sheet but 3-1 and 3 points we will certainly take with 9 games to go.