Ainley hits winner for 10-men Crewe after Sass-Davies sent off early for professional foul.
Callum Ainley scored a deserved winner for ten men Crewe Alexandra as we battled against the elements to progress to the second round of the Carabao Cup.
Ainley struck four minutes into the second half after Owen Dale had initially been foiled by Hartlepool goalkeeper Jonny Mitchell to give David Artell’s spirited side something to really defend.
It has started out as a nightmarish night for the Alex after young defender Billy Sass-Davies was sent off for a professional foul on Tyler Burey after only 12 minutes. The Wales Youth International got in a tussle with the Hartlepool man and pulled his shirt as he threatened to break through on Will Jaaskelainen’s goal.
With 10 men for so long, Crewe had to show character, organisation and incredible fitness levels to see the job through. Although Jamie Sterry struck our woodwork from a first half free-kick, the Alex defended our goal fantastically well on the night to make sure we are in the hat for round two.
David Artell made six changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Cheltenham Town for the season opener at the weekend. Will Jaaskelainen, Callum McFadzean, Billy Sass-Davies, Shaun MacDonald, Christopher Long and Chris Porter all started at Victoria Park. Luke Offord captained the side with Luke Murphy named on a strong bench.
Hartlepool named the former Crewe loanee Jamie Sterry in their starting line-up and the right-back had the first sight of goal when his low drive in the opening minute flashed wide of Jaaskelainen’s right hand post.
There was a great atmosphere inside Victoria Park and that only increased with the first major incident of the game. Billy Sass-Davies got himself in a tussle with Tyler Burey and as the ball broke clear, the forward touched it away from the Crewe Alexandra centre-half and was through on goal.
Even if Sass-Davies had been pulled first he really should have let him go and risk Burey scoring, but instead reacted by pulling his shirt back and that gave referee Thomas Bramall the easiest of decisions to make. It was a straight red card for a professional foul and Crewe were reduced to 10 men.
The unfortunate Long, on his Crewe debut, was the man to be sacrificed as Donervon Daniels replaced him in the reshuffle. Thankfully, the resultant free-kick came to nothing and Sterry’s follow up effort in the second phase came through to the Crewe goalkeeper with no problems.
Crewe had to quickly regroup with Owen Dale pushing forward to try and offer some support to lone forward Porter.
The Railwaymen weathered the storm of going down to 10 men and the midfield trio of MacDonald, Lundstram and Ainley hustled and retained possession whenever they could.
Our former loanee Sterry looked the most likely player on the pitch to open the scoring and the former Newcastle youngster struck a superb free-kick over the Crewe wall and against the crossbar just after the half an hour mark. It was a wonderfully executed free-kick but to his credit, Jaaskelainen, had also shuffled his positioning to cover it.
On 39 minutes, a promising run from Dale saw him wriggle free from a couple of tackles before finding Kayne Ramsay in support. The right-back took a decisive touch back across the edge of the Hartlepool box, but his curling shot cleared the far post. Moments later, from a good position inside the penalty area, Ainley showed some tidy feet but lifted his shot over Jonny Mitchell’s crossbar. As the half time whistle approached it was better from Crewe in an attacking sense.
The half ended though with a yellow card for manager David Artell presumably for something he had said to one of the officials. It had been one of those frustrating evenings but Crewe had achieved a clean-sheet from a battling 45 minutes.
Artell made a change at the break with Mika Mandron replacing Porter. Mandron was facing one of his former clubs after a short spell on loan from Sunderland early on in his career.
Mandron was quickly involved in the play and four minutes into the second period, his break down the touchline and strength allowed us to get up the pitch in numbers. He waited to be joined by Lundstram and his cross found Dale in space. The forward was denied by the agility of Mitchell, but Ainley was on hand to control his volley and smack in the rebound for the opening goal. It was certainly not an easy finish and it was wonderfully taken by the attacking midfielder.
A couple of minutes later, Jaaskelainen had to produce his first major save of the night when he was forced to push over a dipping effort from Hartlepool’s captain Nicky Featherstone. Then a Sterry delivery into the Crewe box was volleyed over by the opposite full-back, Zaine Francis-Angol.
Ainley had a taste for it and after more bright skill from a short corner, he glided past two static Hartlepool defenders to reach the by-line and lift over the perfect cross from Luke Offord but the captain’s header was tipped over by Mitchell.
Dave Chaillnor made two changes on the hour mark, with Mark Cullen and Olufela Olomola replacing Martin Smith and Luke Molyneux.
Jaaskelainen was equal to a shot from distance from Burey. At the other end, Ainley continued to be a nuisance to the home side with his skill and probing runs.
With 20 minutes remaining, Gary Liddle made way for David Ferguson. Crewe kept compact, assured in possession and worked their socks off to block crosses and any shots towards our goal.
Even when the Hartlepool supporters thought they had scored, Kayne Ramsay threw himself in front of a close range effort from Cullen to deflect it behind for a corner. Half of the stadium thought it had gone in!
The noise increased as Hartlepool pressed for an equaliser but Crewe stood up to the increasing pressure well. On 77 minutes, a tactical change to get more of a grip on the ball saw the experienced Murphy replace goal scorer Ainley.
Ramsay was cautioned for taking his time at a throw-in but as the minutes ticked away, those in-game management moments counted. Dale also for delaying a free-kick.
Sterry was a threat once again with an excellent cross from the Alex left but Olomola made a mess of his header and he didn’t make a good enough contact on it when he really should have.
Daniels and Offord headed everything that came into our box and our game management was fantastic as we saw out the remaining few minutes.