Goals in each half from Mandron and Dale secure back-to-back wins for the Alex.
Crewe Alexandra secured back-to-back victories with a deserved 2-0 away win at Oxford United this evening. It was a really professional display from the Railwaymen who followed up Saturday’s outstanding 2-0 win over League leaders, Peterborough United, with a win at the Kassam Stadium thanks to goals from Mikael Mandron and substitute Owen Dale.
It needed a different, more gritty performance from the Alex who controlled the first half to lead through Mandron’s tap-in from Oli Finney’s assist, but it took a stoppage time finish from Dale to finally secure the points. Fellow substitute, Callum Ainley, turned provider on this occasion and Dale drilled it home in off the far post.
In truth, the Alex had more chances to score than the home side, with Mandron wasting a good chance to net a second for himself in the first half and both Luke Murphy, Charlie Kirk and OmAR Beckles all going close in the second half.
Unsurprisingly, David Artell elected to name an unchanged starting XI for our re-arranged fixture at Oxford United. The match at the Kassam Stadium had twice being postponed due to Covid-19 issues.
The Alex boss selected the same starting 18-man squad that shone so impressively against the league leaders, Peterborough United, at the weekend.
Crewe’s early ventures into the Oxford last third of the pitch almost saw Mikael Mandron and then an advanced Omar Beckles slide Daniel Powell in behind full-back Josh Ruffles. On one occasion Mandron poked the ball through in the direction of Crewe’s right winger, but a concentrated Simon Eastwood left his line early enough to avert any possible danger.
Moments later, Charlie Kirk very nearly punched Powell through with a firm pass - but it was crucially intercepted by the last defender.
It was a tentative opening 10 minutes, like two boxers sounding each other out, but it was evident that both sides wanted to get the ball down and play in the right manner. Whenever Oxford made inroads into the Crewe final third in the opening quarter of the game, they met a stubborn Alex back line.
On 20 minutes, a retreating Perry Ng bundled into the back of Olamide Shodipo to concede a free-kick on the edge of the Crewe penalty area. The Oxford captain, James Henry, struck his shot directly into the Crewe wall and it was eventually cleared for a first corner for the U’s. Ng cleared the danger as it dropped inside the six yard box.
Five minutes later, after an encouraging passing move from the Alex saw midfielder, Tom Lowery flash a shot wide of Eastwood’s left hand post. In the next phase of play, Oli Finney once again popped up in the opposition box to get his head onto a cross and after it was kept alive by Powell, Ng’s wicked cross to the far post had to be touched behind for a corner by Sean Clare with Kirk menacingly lurking.
There wasn’t much occurring in the game but Crewe did look the more dangerous when mounting attacks. So it proved too just before the half an hour mark, a really patient build up down the left hand side saw Kirk and Pickering combine once again. The ball was expertly played into Finney inside the box and his near post cross was met by Mandron. He got enough on it to send it goalwards and it trickled past a grounded Eastwood almost in slow motion for his 7th goal of a productive season so far.
Then from an Oxford corner, Crewe had an excellent opportunity to break with purpose. It opened up in the centre of the pitch, but Finney couldn’t quite get the final ball through to Powell which would have allowed him to run in behind. It was unfortunate that he couldn’t quite execute the perfect pass because the winger was in.
Finney got his next pass spot on though. He picked up a terrific position to slip Mandron in behind but he shot wastefully from a really good position to make it 2-0. Moments later, Crewe had reason to question a challenge on Pickering by Clare close to the by-line. It should have been a penalty or corner if Clare had played the ball. Crewe strangely, received neither.
As the half drew to a close and Crewe hardly troubled as a defensive unit, the fouls against us column certainly increased. Before the interval, Kirk drilled a shot from distance wide and it was certainly wishing for the whistle more than us.
In the opening minutes of the second half, the Oxford defender, Sam Long, did well enough to hold off the intentions of Mandron as he attempted to get on the end of a fine cross from Pickering.
With the home side struggling to cause Crewe any real problems, Karl Robinson made a double change just before the hour mark with Jordan Obit and Sam Winnall replacing other forward players, Matty Taylor and Mark Sykes. Winnall’s first contribution saw him head goalwards and Jaaskelainen had to make a routine save.
The fresh legs of Oxford certainly gave them some added threat and Ng had to head behind for a corner after a dangerous looking ball from Shodipo.
David Artell soon made a double substitution of his own, with Ainley and Murphy replacing Finney and Lowery to freshen up the middle of the park.
Ainley soon got on the ball and created an opening for Kirk but he elected not to pull the trigger and in turn re-found Ainley close to the by-line. He was fouled and Shodipo was booked. Pickering’s free-kick was duly headed clear.
Luke Offord was soon joining the Oxford winger in the referee’s book following an obvious obstruction.
Then following another free-kick from Henry, Ng stood firm to head clear of the box. With 16 minutes remaining, Owen Dale replaced Powell. Moments later, Oxford conjured up their best chance of the evening but with his free header, Winnall could only direct it up and over the top of the Alex crossbar. It was a let off.
The challenges continued and Clare was booked for going through the back of Kirk in the centre circle. Dale was also cheaply booked for kicking the ball away after a foul had been conceded by Mandron for handball.
In order to protect our one goal advantage, Crewe had to remain calm and concentrated as we ended the final 10 minutes. Oxford made their last change with Marcus McGuane replacing Anthony Forde.
Crewe so nearly doubled the lead from a Pickering corner. Beckles met it forcefully with his head to force Eastwood into a smart save and in the follow up, Mandron’s half volley was blocked on the line. Crewe appealed for a handball infringement but referee Will Finnie waved away the appeals.
Luke Murphy should have made the three points safe with Crewe’s next attack. It was beautifully created for him by Pickering and Kirk, who pulled the back perfectly for him but Murphy’s side-footed shot was just the wrong side of the post. You would have backed the experienced midfielder to have slotted home from that range.
Crewe were surrendering far too many free-kicks in the closing stages and that only invited Oxford to launch it into our box looking for the likes of Winnall. The Alex had to dig in and protect our slender lead and we did.
Clare got in behind to whip over a dangerous cross right across our penalty area but no-one in a yellow shirt had gambled. That was arguably their best chance of a passage back into the game late on.
Alex Gorrin was booked for a late challenge on Beckles as he went to clear up field.
Crewe sealed the deserved win in stoppage time. The Alex kept the ball superbly on the left hand side and a fantastic drag back from Murphy opened up the space for Ainley to dummy to shoot and instead slip Dale in. The winger kept his cool to drill home his first goal of the season and seal the points.
Kirk had an opportunity to mark his fine performance with a goal for himself. On the break, Ainley was the provider again, slipped him in and Kirk shaped himself to bend it into the far corner but on this occasion it cleared the far post.