Pickering stunner gives Crewe first away win at Doncaster.
A wonderfully struck free-kick from full-back Harry Pickering gave Crewe Alexandra their first away win of the season at promotion hopefuls Doncaster. Pickering curled home a splendid winner with just over 20 minutes left on the clock after Tom Lowery had been tripped from what at first glance looked to have occurred inside the Doncaster box. After the protests had died down, Pickering made the home side pay anyway with his third goal of the campaign.
Crewe had taken a deserved lead through Charlie Kirk’s first goal of the season after he had been slipped in on goal by the recalled Callun Ainley. The Alex lead lasted barely 60 seconds though with the impressive Josh Sims replying for Rovers with a low curling shot.
There were chances at both ends, with Tom Lowery denied a goal on his return and Will Jaaskelainen making a super save to deny the home side a late leveller from a corner.
For the club’s first trip to the impressive Keepmoat Stadium for the first time since January 2017, David Artell utilised his squad and altered his midfield selection.
Oli Finney and Luke Murphy were left out of the starting line-up for Callum Ainley and a now fully fit Tom Lowery. It was Lowery’s first league start since January following hernia surgery.
Ainley recaptured his place following the impact he made as a second half substitute against Sunderland on Tuesday evening. Crewe lost 1-0 but Ainley was Crewe’s most creative force in the closing stages.
Doncaster Rovers forced the first corner of the game after just 15 seconds when Omar Beckles was called upon to cut out a dangerous looking through ball from Madger Gomes. Rovers wasted the early opportunity by floating the cross onto the top of Will Jaaskelainen’s netting. Their second attack saw winger Josh Sims fire over a deflected cross off Perry Ng into the gloves of the Alex stopper.
Crewe’s first meaningful attack came in the 5th minute. Mikael Mandron did ever so well to regain possession close to the centre circle and after neat play between Ainley and Kirk, the ball was played down the inside channel for the overlapping Harry Pickering. His initial cross was blocked, but the ball was kept alive by Kirk and it was eventually worked back out of the box for Wintle to strike. The anchor man midfield drilled it true enough, but straight at the Doncaster goalkeeper Josef Bursik.
From that attack, Doncaster lost Jon Taylor through injury after he had been the one who had tracked Pickering. After what looked like a muscle injury, he had to be replaced by Jason Lokilo.
More promising work from Ainley and Pickering, saw full-back Reece James beat Daniel Powell to our left-back’s far post delivery and he tucked it behind for a Crewe corner. From the set-piece, Mandron acquired some space at the far post but under severe pressure couldn’t direct his back header on target.
On 12 minutes, Crewe did everything but score. Another terrific passing move saw Kirk again release Pickering and his wicked low cross caused mayhem inside the six yard box. The ball was just about cleared out to Lowery and he demonstrated perfect technique to smash it on the half volley, but his goalbound effort was somehow blocked and it stayed out. There was a strong shout for a handball but it would have been harsh as the defender wouldn’t have known anything about it such was the distance and power of the shot. How Crewe hadn’t taken the lead was anyone’s guess.
Doncaster were also a threat in the final third and on 17 minutes, good work from front man, Fejiri Okenabirhie, created half an opening for Sims, but his low shot aimed for the right hand side was deflected for a corner by Offord. minutes later, Ben Whiteman curled a free-kick wide after the tricky Sims had been fouled.
Down the Alex right flank, a good interchange of passing between captain Ng and Powell resulted in the winger dragging a shot close to Bursik. If Powell had seen the unmarked Kirk on the opposite side then he would have been in on goal.
Crewe really did look threatening and deservedly took the lead on 26 minutes with a wonderfully worked move and finish. Lowery, who was at his tenacious best found Ainley in space and after he carried the ball forward, drawing the Doncaster to him, he released Kirk at the perfect time. His touch was superb, allowing him to open his body up and slot home his first goal of the season.
The lead lasted barely 60 seconds after Doncaster kept possession in and around the Alex box before providing the dangerous Sims with enough time and space to find a slight gap and bend a shot past a helpless Jaaskelainen for the equaliser.
On the half an hour mark, the ball was worked into Doncaster’s Gomes and Jaaskelainen had to hold onto his low drive in slippery conditions. Powell also did well defensively to prevent James from getting a clean shot at goal.
As the first half drew to a close, it was Doncaster certainly enjoying more of the ball in our half of the pitch but Crewe were standing firm as a defensive unit and the home side didn’t really get in behind us. Offord was called upon to make a fantastic block on a shot from Okenabirhie from the edge of the penalty area.
Crewe played some sublime football in the first period and thoroughly deserved to be level heading in for the interval.
The second half kicked off in a deluge of rain. Skipper Ng was called into action early, pinching the ball from the feet of Okenabirhie, just as he was about to get his shot off. It was a timely interception in front of goal after the Doncaster striker had spun rather fortunately it appeared, from away from Beckles.
Despite the weather conditions, the good football continued from both sides. Jaaskelainen was forced into action when the rushing James got forward again to force a shot from inside the Crewe box.
After Kirk looked to have been tugged back by Gomes, Doncaster created a golden opportunity for Okenabirhie on 55 minutes. The striker had been perfectly slipped in by Sims but he couldn’t keep his shot under the crossbar when he should of from that range.
Following a scramble from a corner, the Doncaster Rovers centre-half, Joe Wright, was rather unlucky to see his low shot miss the target after traveling past endless bodies. If it had been on target, Jaaskelainen would have been struggling to get there.
On the hour mark, Crewe made their first change of the afternoon with Owen Dale replacing Powell.
Brad Halliday was booked for coming through the back of Ainley. The Alex player was left clutching his Achilles and the ‘tackle’ didn’t go down to well in the Crewe technical area.
On 68 minutes, a mazy run from Lowery saw the diminutive midfielder tripped from what looked to be within the box. The Crewe players’ certainty thought so but the referee waved away the strong appeals. Crewe were given a free-kick instead and Pickering took full advantage, curling his effort away from Bursik for his third goal of the season. It was a fantastically struck free-kick.
Crewe had to switch on and were so nearly punished again so soon after scoring. James got down the right and his low cross seemed to be touched by Okenabirhie but not enough to divert it home.
Doncaster made a change with veteran James Coppinger replacing Matt Smith. Crewe soon followed suit with Luke Murphy replacing the hard working Lowery.
The Alex were containing Darren Moore’s side as we entered the final 10 minutes. The excellent Ainley made way as he tired with Finney replacing him as the minutes ticked by.
A forceful run from Wintle so nearly saw him find Dale but his pass was just cut out before it reached him.
From a Doncaster corner, Jaaskelainen made a fantastic save to deny Joe Wright a certain equaliser with his head. The Alex keeper shifted across to spread himself and keep out the defender’s close range header.
As we entered the final few minutes, Moore’s final change saw Cameron John replace Gomes.
There was a frustrated more than anything appeal for a penalty when Wintle blocked Halliday’s strong shot with his face but again the officials were not interested.
Crewe defended the box really well to see out the stoppage time and get those three away points.