George Lloyd header in extra-time sees Crewe out of the FA Cup but Alex left frustrated by red card controversy in first half.
Crewe Alexandra’s Emirates FA Cup journey abruptly ended at Cheltenham Town this afternoon after a George Lloyd header in extra-time sealed a 2-1 win for the home side. Chris Porter had forced the extra half an hour with his first goal of the season with a deflected effort, but Crewe couldn’t find another equaliser in the second period of extra time to force a penalty shoot-out.
Cheltenham had taken an early lead through Finn Azaz after Crewe had given the ball away too cheaply and then didn’t deal with a ball going into our box as well as we should have done. The Alex found themselves behind after barely three minutes had surpassed.
Crewe arguably conjured up the better of the chances in normal time with Daniel Powell and Luke Murphy both being denied by Scott Flinders in the Cheltenham goal. The Alex will also feel aggrieved that a key decision didn’t go our way in the first half when last man, Lewis Freestone, had pulled Porter down after the forward had robbed him of possession some 20 yards from goal.
The last defender was only booked but his actions had certainly prevented Porter from going one-v-one with Flinders.
In the 94th minute of this highly-contested cup-tie, Lloyd got his head onto a clever knockdown inside the Crewe six yard box to send Michael Duff’s side into round three and the draw on Monday evening. It was another frustrating afternoon for the Alex, who have now slipped to three successive defeats in all competitions following superb back-to-back wins over Oxford and Peterborough.
Prior to kick off at the Jonny Rocks Stadium, there was a one minute silence to honour the career of the Argentine footballer, Diego Maradona, who passed away earlier in the week following a cardiac arrest at his home.
The former Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli and Seville number 10 helped his country win the 1986 World Cup and was aged 60 when he died.
David Artell made three changes to the Crewe side that lost narrowly at Accrington Stanley on Tuesday evening with midfielders, Luke Murphy and Callum Ainley, coming in for Oli Finney and Tom Lowery. The other change saw youngster Owen Dale replaced on the right wing by Daniel Powell.
With Mikael Mandron and Omar Beckles still not quite fit enough to make themselves available for selection, it was the same squad of 18 that had travelled to the Wham Stadium.
Cheltenham boss, Michael Duff, named the former Crewe Academy graduate, Chris Clements in his starting line-up. The former Crewe loannee, Chris Hussey, also started at the Jonny Rocks Stadium.
The home side were gifted the opening goal after just three minutes. Following a poor clearance with his feet, Will Jaaskelainen, surrendered possession back to Cheltenham out on the right touchline.
With virtually their first attack, Crewe were forced to defend a deep cross and Pickering could only direct his headed clearance to the edge of the box. The long-haired Finn Azaz was completely unmarked to collect it and he didn’t hesitate to fire into the corner of the net.
It was such a soft goal to concede from a Crewe perspective and to only compound matters, Ainley was forced off before the restart. The young talent was unable to continue after taking an early knock and had to be replaced for Finney. It was a blow for the attack-minded midfielder after his cameo appearances as a substitute of late had deservedly seen him earn a start.
Just minutes after the opening goal, Clements was presented with a similar chance to Azaz on the edge of the Crewe penalty area, but on this occasion his shot was deflected behind for a corner. Alfie May was presented with half a chance but his half volley was blocked by Pickering. He also drove a shot from inside the box that was blocked by the face of Ryan Wintle.
Crewe tried to respond with Lancashire’s superb long ball only needing a truer touch from Powell and he was through and then Ng found Finney, but we couldn’t quite find Porter or Kirk coming up behind our main striker. After falling behind early, it took Crewe a period of time to settle into their rhythm – but we began to start enjoying more of the possession.
On 15 minutes, a well worked corner routine from the Alex right hand side, saw Kirk float the ball out to Finney on the edge of the box and his attempted volley was well blocked, as was his follow up effort.
The Railwaymen continued to have more of the ball, with Duff’s side content to contain and hit us on the break. Their plan was working well with space limited and access into Porter limited. Crewe kept probing, patiently aiming for that key pass in the final third.
On half an hour, a longer ball from Finney dropped over the top of Lewis Freestone as Powell tried to pressurise him. Freestone turned away from Powell, but found Porter in close proximity and he pinched possession from him. Porter’s sure touch had placed him past the final defender and in panic, Freestone halted him down.
The Alex players and staff were understandably aggrieved that a professional foul on our centre-forward only resulted in a yellow card from referee James Adcock. In the rules, it should have been a dismissal as Freestone was clearly the last man, but our protests were ignored.
From the resultant free-kick, Pickering did force Scott Flinders into a smart save. The Cheltenham goalkeeper shifted across to get both hands onto the shot and push it away. His next involvement was not so impressive though as his rash clearance with his feet struck his own defender, Charlie Raglan, and went inches past his right hand post. It could have gone absolutely anywhere!
A succession of Crewe corners, applied concerted pressure but didn’t result in the desired equaliser.
It nearly got doubly worse for the Alex with just three minutes of the first half remaining. Following a rather scruffy period of play on the left hand side, Matt Blair got free and his low cross was perfect for the onrushing Liam Sercombe. His collection was good but he swept it just over the top of the Jaaskelainen’s crossbar. It was a golden chance to double their advantage heading into the half time interval. Then in first half stoppage time, the Finnish goalkeeper made a very good save to keep out a second Cheltenham goal from a corner.
In the opening few minutes of the second half, the hard working May raced in behind the Crewe back line again and following a fantastic interchange of passes with goalscorer, Azaz, he volleyed just over the crossbar. It would have been some goal if he had managed to keep it down and beat Jaaskelainen. May then blasted a shot against the back of one of his own players before wastefully sent an attempted lob well wide.
Five minutes into second half, Crewe finally conjured up the chance that should have drawn us level. Finney had the awareness to find Powell inside the Cheltenham box, but with just Flinders to beat, the winger fired straight at him. He couldn’t wriggle free to take advantage of the rebound and the home side managed to clear. It was Crewe’s best chance of the game by far.
On 55 minutes, Crewe created another wonderful chance. Kirk and then Finney were involved in the initial build up and Finney’s cut back was perfect for Murphy to strike first time. The midfielder’s technique was excellent and he did everything correctly with his connection, but Flinders produced an outstanding save to keep the effort out.
May continued to be a constant menace and he directed a flick header wide of the far post. At the other end of the pitch, Porter nearly stole in front of Flinders to reach a deflected cross from Ng.
When Porter collected a loose ball on 63 minutes some 25 yards from goal, he took matters into his own hands. With no-one exposing the space down the right wing, the forward got it out of his feet, turned and shot for goal. A deflection took it past Flinders, who was rooted to the spot as it flashed past him. It was Porter’s first goal of the season and Crewe on the balance of play and chances created deserved to be level. Following our goal, Artell quickly made his first change with Dale on for Powell.
Jaaskelainen was forced into another fine save to deny May and from the rebound, Sercombe couldn’t get over the ball and keep it down with the goal at his mercy.
Boosted by Porter’s equalising goal, Crewe continued to control the majority of the game. Ng dragged a shot a couple of yards wide of the target. It was Crewe having the ball and looking the most likely to score again in the 90 minutes.
It was no surprise that it was Duff making the next change in the game with Tom Sang replacing Azaz. From a free-kick, Hussey drilled his shot through the Alex wall but Jaaskelainen was right behind it.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, May was booked for a foul on Ng. Sercombe was forced into a block tackle on Murphy after Porter had pulled a long ball down and touched it back for him.
With 8 minutes remaining, Dale sent Ng down the right and after the skipper did remarkably well to win a challenge and get up again, his lifted cross eventually found Kirk at the far post. The winger wrapped his foot around it but his firm shot went narrowly wide. It was a chance.
With the minutes ticking away, the tiring Freestone was replaced by Will Boyle.
More good play involving Ng and Dale gave Wintle enough time and space to get a shot off from 20 yards but it was blocked. Dale and his team-mates also complained after he was pulled back inside the box as he tried to chase down a knock down from Porter. Not for the first time during the afternoon, our protests fell on deaf ears.
The referee continued to make some rather strange decisions all afternoon, much to the amusement of those who had the privilege of watching the game live inside the stadium.
In stoppage time, Cheltenham had a chance to win it from a corner, but defender Raglan could only head just wide of the target. That was virtually the last touch of the normal 90 minutes and the game went into extra-time.
Four minutes into extra-time, Cheltenham took the lead for a second time in the game when a far post cross from Sang was headed back across the six-yard box and George Llloyd bravely threw himself at the ball to head it past Jaaskelainen.
Olly Lancashire was severely hurt in the collision close to the post and he needed extensive treatment. After a necessary delay, Lancashire was bandaged up round his head and was able to continue.
With Crewe chasing another equaliser, Finney made way for the fresher legs of Lowery in midfield. Crewe kept pressing, but were certainly being caught offside too many times.
Lloyd, who had been involved with the collision with Lancashire was soon replaced by Andy Williams.
Unsurprisingly, there were five minutes of added time following the head injuries to Lloyd and Lancashire and during that period, Sercombe had the best effort with a well struck shot from 20 yards out that stung the gloves of Jaaskelainen.
May did likewise at the beginning of the second period but not before Artell had gone for broke with Zanzala on for Murphy.
Hussey did well to divert a dangerous looking cross from Pickering behind for a corner before Porter could impose himself in the air. Zanzala was also halted in his tracks by sub Boyle as he tried to latch onto a longer ball from Offord. Crewe were hoping more than anything for something to drop to us in the box.
Thorn in the side, May had a shot blocked again by Offord but Crewe needed to be at the other end of the pitch. Crewe probed but couldn’t create that real chance and force penalties.