Mandron brace in opening 20 minutes seals perfect away day for the Alex
A first half brace from Mikael Mandron set Crewe Alexandra on their way to a thoroughly deserved three points at Stadium MK. The club’s leading scorer tucked home two assists from winger Charlie Kirk in the opening 20 minutes to take his personal tally to 12 goals in all competitions for the season.
It was no more than Crewe deserved after a hard working and exciting first half performance and in truth it could and should have been more with Kirk spurning presentable chances and Andrew Fisher in the MK Dons goal saving smartly to deny the lively match winner Mandron a treble.
Crewe had to escape an early scare in the opening minutes of the second half when Cameron Jerome after he had broken the offside trap to latch on a through ball from Ethan Laird. He rounded Will Jaaskelainen but on the turn could only hit the post.
The Alex contained any real threat to make sure we bounced back from our Good Friday defeat at the hands of league leaders Hull City.
With two games in such a short space of time, David Artell utilised his squad for the trip to MK Dons. Luke Offord returned to the starting line-up at right-back, replacing Donervon Daniels. It was the defender’s first first-team game since January when he suffered a severe hamstring injury against Bristol Rovers.
Leading scorer Mandron returned for Chris Porter to lead the line and Luke Murphy came in for Callum Ainley. Rio Adebisi was named on the substitutes’ bench with Antony Evans missing out.
The busy Tom Lowery set an early tone by pressurising Josh McEachran into surrendering possession to him in midfield on three occasions, but Crewe couldn’t quite full advantage of the transitions.
An early free-kick from the left saw Harry Pickering’s free-kick pick out Mandron and his accurate header had to be acrobatically pushed away by Andrew Fisher. The ball just looped up too high for Omar Beckles to reach it and in the follow up, it wouldn’t sit easy for Charlie Kirk to strike at goal.
After just six minutes, Lowery tormented McEachran again by sending the ball through his legs and then releasing Mandron down the right hand side of the box. His early cross aimed for Owen Dale didn’t reach his intended target after a bit of a wrestle with Warren O’Hora. Referee Andy Woolmer was not interested in Dale’s protest.
The MK Dons actually had the ball in the net following their first meaningful attack. Matt O’Reilly swung over a wonderful delivery from the Crewe right and the experienced Cameron Jerome stole in to side foot past Will Jaaskelainen from close range. The ‘goal’ was righty chalked off after Jermone had just gone a touch early to convert the cross.
Lowery’s application paid off for the opening goal after 15 minutes. The diminutive midfielder stuck to his guns to rob Zak Jules of the ball and that allowed Crewe to break quickly. Lowery released Kirk superbly into space down the left hand side and the winger unselfishly rolled the ball across to Mandron. He had to take a touch and spin around but still had enough time and composure to find the bottom corner for his 11th goal of the season. It was no more than Crewe deserved after such a promising start to the game.
An excellent Crewe doubled their lead just five minutes later. Mandron was involved in the initial build up down the left hand side and after he had kept possession to find Kirk, he made his way into a crowded penalty area. Kirk waited for the striker to find enough room and he lifted a fantastic ball onto his chest. Mandron used his strength to manoeuvre himself perfectly and his drilled shot went through Fisher for his second goal of the afternoon.
Moments later, the influential Lowery tried from range to make it 3-0, but this time Fisher watched it all the way to make a fairly comfortable save.
MK Dons’ footballing philosophy will never alter under their manager Russell Martin and they continued to pass the ball - but they were facing a hard working Crewe side. Our closing down and high press was first class and the home side found it difficult to get out and up the pitch.
The Alex never let them settle.
Louis Thompson and Jermone combined down the Crewe right hand side though and Kirk typified our extraordinary work ethic with his clearance out of a crowded box.
Lowery’s determination to get the ball back was commendable throughout and after he pinched it yet again, Offord’s though ball so nearly found Kirk straight through the middle of the MK Dons defence but Harry Darling did enough to make sure it got back to his goalkeeper.
Lancashire did brilliantly inside the six yard box to cut out a dangerous looking low cross from Daniel Harvie and Crewe were cruising to the half time break firmly in control.
It could have been game set and match in the final minute of the half. Murphy did exceeding well to retreat possession again for the Alex and his wonderfully lifted ball sent Kirk through. He was placed under pressure by the retreating O’Hora and couldn’t quite get a clean touch on his shot and Fisher was able to come out and smother the chance.
Kirk had another fantastic chance to put the game to bed just 30 seconds into the second half. The MK Dons again surrendered possession in a dangerous position and Mandron quickly released Kirk. He took a touch across Darling and that gave the defender just enough of a chance to put him off and forced him to pull his shot wide. It was another glorious opportunity spurned by the Railwaymen.
Five minutes into the second half and the MK Dons had the perfect chance to get back into the game. Ethan Laird did remarkably well to come off the touchline and after drifting past Beckles, he released Jermone clean through on goal. The veteran goal getter did everything right to round Jaaskelainen but he was forced a touch wide and on the turn, and with the goal at his mercy, the former Stoke and Norwich man hit the foot of the post. It was an almighty let off and a goal then would have put a totally different complexion on the game.
On 55 minutes, Crewe broke again with purpose. Following a sublime through ball from Murphy, Mandron again fed Kirk and after being forced wide, he returned it to Mandron, whose ambitious flick was just ahead of Dale. It was another golden chance to kill the game that was wasted.
Jerome limped out of the action soon after and was replaced by Will Grigg. He was soon joined by Scott Fraser after Thompson was forced off with injury.
McEachran was also replaced by David Kasumu as Martin introduced new personnel to try and activate a way back into the contest.
On 68 minutes, Dale was bundled over in the centre of the pitch and that allowed the MK Dons captain Andrew Surman to curl one just wide from 20 yards out. Crewe had to withstand some pressure and not concede during this crucial period.
With 19 minutes left, Stephen Walker replaced Kirk and Dale made way for Adebisi. MK Dons also introduced Charlie Brown for Surman and Matty Sorinola for Ethan Laird.
Grigg broke the offside trap with 15 minutes left but the retreating Alex captain made up incredible ground to intercept his low cross that would have resulted in a tap in. It was fantastic defending.
On 77 minutes, Lancashire was booked for a foul on sub Brown. The MK Dons felt that the Alex defender was the last man and it should have been red rather than the yellow one shown. From the free-kick, O’Riley wasted it by blazing over.
Ainley was given a later outing for the excellent Lowery. Crewe’s game management was again good, with the defensive shape protecting the clean-sheet. The one time they did exploit us, Will Jaaskelainen produced the save of the game to tip away a fine header from Brown. The Alex goalkeeper was praised by his team-mates for his acrobatics.
With the seconds ticking away, match winner Mandron made way for Porter and Daniels came on for Offord.
With a clean-sheet to protect, Murphy did everything he could to stick with O’Riley in stoppage time and that saw the MK Dons man shoot straight at Jaaskelainen.