Deft touch from Michael Nottingham gives Alex deserved point from Exeter test.
A timely touch from the ‘Sherrif’ Michael Nottingham gave Crewe a deserved share of the spoils from our top of the table clash at Exeter. From a free-kick, the on-loan centre half applied a deft touch to Perry Ng’s shot-come-assist to level things up on the brink of the hour mark. It was the on-loan defender’s first goal for the club and makes sure that Crewe remain above Exeter in the table.
In a game of two set piece goals, Exeter had taken the lead just after the half an hour mark through their own defender Tom Parkes. Crewe failed to deal with a corner and Parkes’ low shot deceived a number of gold shirts before nestling in the Crewe net.
The Railwaymen greatly improved in the second half with Stephen Walker having a good chance blocked but Exeter finished the stronger in the final 10 minutes and we had Will Jaaskelainen to thank for saving from Archie Collins and Nottingham for deflecting a header from Nick Law behind for a corner.
David Artell made two changes from the Crewe Alexandra side that drew 1-1 at Morecambe at the weekend. Daniel Powell returned to the starting line-up after his recent substitute appearances, replacing Charlie Kirk. Veteran midfielder Paul Green replaced Oli Finney with a fit-again Tom Lowery named on the substitutes’ bench after his recent groin discomfort.
The former Crewe loanee striker, Nicky Ajose, started on the bench for Matt Taylor’s Exeter City side.
Crewe Alexandra had an early scare inside the opening minutes of the contest after Lee Martin was close to pouncing on a loose ball inside our penalty area but Michael Nottingham had read the ensuing danger to block his run. With the ball only half cleared, Paul Green did well to wrestle possession from Nicky Law and complete it.
Following a succession of storms and rain over a number of weeks, the playing surface at St. James Park was a tricky one and the ball would often drop dead or not run smoothly. It took some adjusting and both teams went a bit longer in the opening exchanges. Exeter were keen to turn our back four at any given opportunity and tussle for those second balls if needs be.
Crewe did have the ball in the net in the 10th minute after Paul Green had tidily tucked away a cross from Harry Pickering but the assistant’s flag had been raised before the connection was made. It will be worth viewing again when the initial cross was struck by the Crewe left-back.
Moments later, Ryan Wintle put in a really tempting cross back into the box from a second phase at a free-kick but no-one in gold took the necessary gamble to perhaps apply a decisive touch.
There was a bit of needle between Ng and winger Martin and after the Crewe skipper had shown a subtle piece of skill to leave him his wake again, Martin was booked for clattering into him from behind. It was a deserved yellow card after just 25 minutes.
The deadlock was broken in the 32nd minute and Crewe were incensed that in the build up to Exeter winning a corner, there was a block on Walker in the centre of the pitch. The on-loan Boro winger had tricked his way past a defender and was obstructed but referee Lee Swabey allowed play to continue.
The lively Ryan Bowman then made a nuisance of himself down the Crewe right and back healed into the path of Martin. His low cross was blocked and struck the legs of Ng before crossing the by-line. It was a unfortunate way to concede and Crewe were duly punished, with the corner dropping to defender Tom Parkes and his low drive beat a number of bodies to give the Grecians the lead. In a tight affair there really had been nothing at all in the game.
With the first half drawing to a close, Randall Williams, who had been kept fairly quiet by Pickering sprung into action. He created a good opening for Martin that Ng did exceeding well to get across and block and he then fired a volley straight at Will Jaaskelainen from a corner.
Crewe went into the interval a goal down after a tight first period and other than Green’s disallowed effort, the Railwaymen had not created too much in terms of efforts on the Exeter goal.
A strong run from Ng in the opening minute of the second half was only spoilt by him over hitting his pass down the channel to Walker. It was just long for him to reach. A promising start from the Alex then saw Powell, Green and Pickering retain possession on the edge of the Exeter box. Pickering’s check and deep cross to the far post went over Porter and the last defender and fell to Walker, who certainly got hold of his shot but it was blocked by Brennan Dickenson as he recovered.
A sublime piece of skill from Offord saw him intercept play and then look up before applying a perfect pass over the top for Walker to race onto. Walker was certainly ahead in any foot race but his progress was halted by the assistant’s flag. It looked close to say the least.
It was more promising from Crewe, who were looking to exploit the space in behind the Exeter back line a lot more.
Exeter remained a threat from set pieces though and their first real opportunity of the second half saw Bowman have his well struck volley from a corner blocked.
Just before the hour mark, the pace of Walker looked like it may unlock the Exeter defence and after a powerful run of a difficult surface, his final pass into the supportive Wintle was cut out by the recovering Law.
A minute later, the Railwaymen were deservedly level. It was Exeter’s turn not to clear the danger from a set piece and Crewe levelled things up. Pickering’s free-kick from the right dropped to Ng inside a crowded box and although his shot was not as sweet as he would have wished, a subtle touch from Michael Nottingham took it into the bottom corner of the Exeter net. It was Nottingham’s first goal for the club at a crucial time.
Crewe were on top and with Martin getting little change out of Ng, he was replaced on 68 minute for Jake Taylor. Williams didn’t get any change out of Williams either and his robust but fair challenge on the Exeter winger raised the temperature inside St James’ Park.
Pickering survived an almighty scare when he allowed substitute Taylor to pinch the ball from him but luckily for the left-back, his low cross missed an Exeter player and Williams couldn’t muster anything from it at the far post.
With 12 minutes remaining, Artell made a double change with Anene and Kirk introduced for Walker and Porter. Kirk was almost immediately booked for catching Taylor.
Bowman had a sniff of the Crewe goal after a bouncing ball dropped invitingly for him to strike but from a tight angle it was difficult to get it on target. Nottingham had to be well placed to turn a downward header from Law behind for a corner before Jaaskelainen produced his best save of the night to push over an effort from 25 yards from Archie Collins. The Alex youngster showed great awareness and agility to push it over.
Crewe were being forced to defend our box in the closing stages but stood firm despite losing Nottingham with cramp as the minutes ticked away. Hunt replaced him for the closing stages and Crewe deservedly had a point.