A well-drilled and spirited Crewe Alexandra side were finally undone by Leeds United in the final 13 minutes of this Carabao Cup tie. As tired legs and minds began to tell, Marcelo Bielsa’s side ran away with it with arguably the best player on the pitch on the night, Jack Harrison scoring a late brace after England International Kalvin Phillips had finally broken our resolve from a corner.
Crewe had worked tirelessly to frustrate and contain Leeds United and the 3-0 score line doesn’t reflect the performance we put in. We rode our luck at times, but defended superbly well as a team unit until the game became stretched in the final furlong and Bielsa had send on Patrick Bamford to stretch our back five even more with his fresh legs and runs in behind.
The Alex had limited chances of our own in truth but sub Callum Ainley forced Meslier into a save at 0-0 and there were some real positives to take from the display. An amazing crowd of 34,154 were inside a bouncing Elland Road to watch it and the Alex left the pitch to a standing ovation from the away support, who were noisy throughout too.
David Artell made five changes to the Crewe Alexandra side that lost 1-0 at home to Accrington Stanley at the weekend. Incoming was goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen, Callum McFadzean, Billy Sass-Davies, Josh Lundstram and Oli Finney for David Richards, Callum Ainley, Chris Porter, Shaun MacDonald and the suspended Luke Offord.
Artell alerted his formation to operate with a wing-back system and Kayne Ramsay started as a right-sided centre-half.
Luke Murphy skippered the Crewe Alexandra side on his return to Elland Road. Murphy spent five seasons at Leeds after joining from the Alex in 2013 for £1 million.
Marcelo Bielsa named a strong side which included England International Kalvin Phillips, Helder Costa, Jack Harrison, Adam Forshaw and Junior Firpo. Rodrigo led the Leeds front line.
A positive start from the Railwaymen saw Terell Thomas advance up the pitch and find Ben Knight. The on-loan Manchester City youngster headed for the by-line and won the first corner of the match in the opening minute. Knight’s out-swinging corner found Mikael Mandron, but on the stretch he could only head upwards and in the second phase of play, Murphy’s lifted pass into the Leeds box was collected by Illan Meslier.
It was the best start Crewe had made to the new season. Mandron and Knight continuously roamed into good positions and there was some real positive passing between the lines and a collective work ethic to prevent Leeds from getting into their stride.
It was Leeds United though who threatened the goal first in the opening 10 minutes. There was a loud appeal for a handball close to the Alex box and as the ball dropped invitingly, Forshaw struck it well enough and forced Jaaskelainen into a smart save, diving to his left.
Crewe pressed Leeds into some uncharacteristic errors with their passing and dropped off as a tight unit when the home side got good possession playing out from the back.
After 20 minutes, Knight was subjected to a hefty tackle from behind and needed a period of treatment on his ankle before he was able to resume.
From a Leeds free-kick, swung in by captain Phillips out on the left, Diego Llorente headed goalwards and it would have dipped in at the far post, but for the positioning of Sass-Davies on the line. The Wales Under-21 International headed clear of danger and received a few pats on the back for his efforts.
A period of concerted Leeds pressure then saw Jaaskelainen make a fine save to deny Jack Harrison. The midfielder unleashed from 25 yards but the Alex goalkeeper was equal to it to push it behind for a corner. Harrison’s corner was then headed just wide by the onrushing and alarmingly free Phillips. The England midfielder really should have opened the scoring on 25 minutes after breaking through a crowd to meet the cross perfectly.
Leeds had settled and Crewe needed to try and get more touches of the football. A burst from Finney on the half an hour mark saw him not quite catch his shot as true as he would have liked and Mandron just couldn’t take a touch in his stride to turn it into a chance for himself.
Moments later, Llorente strode of defence and played an inch perfect through ball to Costa and his low cross was collected by Rodrigo in front of the Crewe goal but Ramsay made a superb block to prevent Crewe going behind.
As the pressure on the Crewe goal grew, Harrison tricked his way past Rio Adebisi before pulling it back invitingly for Roberts but he too was foiled in front of Jaaskelainen’s goal by the excellent Thomas. Crewe were putting bodies on the line to keep the Premier League side at bay.
Knight took another knock on his ankle and needed yet more treatment and that lull in the game gave Artell time to address his hard working players on the touchline. With 10 minutes to the break, Leeds had conjured up some decent chances but hadn’t broken Crewe’s resolve.
On 42 minutes, another excellent run from Harrison saw him head for the by-line and another smart cut-back saw Junior Firpo hit the outside of the post. Jaaskelainen had moved across and had it covered.
Moments later from a really good position on the edge of the Crewe penalty area, Helder Costa lashed his shot high into the crowd. It was another wasted opportunity for the home side.
Murphy was cautioned for a foul on Helder with two minutes of the half remaining and Crewe survived that last free-kick to go in at the break quite deservedly on level terms.
Bielsa made a change at the start of the second half with Luke Ayling replacing Llorente in his backline.
Leeds got into their groove of passing the ball but Crewe continued to frustrate with our organisation and willingness to put the yards in to contain them.
On 52 minutes, Harrison was slipped in behind by Tyler Roberts but he drove his shot wide of the far post from a good position. Sass-Davies applied a great block to prevent Costa from registering a shot on target and our rearguard action was limiting their genuine chances.
When in possession, we had to be careful because Leeds were so quick in transition, often looking for the outlet of Harrison out on the right. A bright move from the Railwaymen saw Mandron wrestle possession away from Leeds and feed Knight and his instant through ball found Adebisi in an advanced position but after cutting back and into the box, the ball seemed to be poked away from him by the retreating Harrison. The referee gave a goal kick.
After switching wings for a phase, Harrison then whistled one just wide of the far post. Bielsa made his second change with Mateusz Klich replacing Forshaw just after the hour mark.
The crosses kept coming in from Leeds and Thomas and Sass-Davies continued to head them out. A promising passing move from Crewe involving Lundstram and Mandron should have seen Finney play in Knight but the final pass wasn’t accurate enough.
Moments later, Kayne Ramsay showed real power and pace to race almost the length of the pitch. It was a terrific run and his cross was wasted mainly because no-one could keep with him!
Bielsa’s final change came on 69 minutes with Patrick Bamford replacing Rodrigo. Crewe’s first substitution on the night saw Ainley replace Finney.
On 74 minutes, Mandron, who was a nuisance for much of the night, did well again to nod a longer ball down for Ainley and his well struck shot was well held by Meslier.
Artell’s second change saw Knight make way for Travis Johnson. The teenager had certainly put in some shift for the cause.
With 13 minutes remaining, a lifted cross from Klich seemed to hit Bamford at the far post and then hit a Crewe body before rebounding out for a corner. Crewe had stood up so well and would finally be undone by a set-play. Harrison send over a lower delivery and Phillips stole a slight march on McFadzean to steer his shot past Jaaskelainen, who got something on it.
Two minutes later, Bamford got his first sight of goal but from a tight angle he shot into the grounded Jaaskelainen. He did it again soon after and headed a good chance wide after being found by Klich.
Adebisi was booked on 82 minutes for an obvious pulling of the shirt.
With five minutes left, the Premier League side sealed the tie with a fantastic counter-attack. After Meslier had collected an Ainley cross, he quickly got the home side on the front foot. Kilch released Bamford and with Crewe stretched and bodies up the pitch, he rolled it over to Harrison. Although he was opposed by Jaaskelainen and the retreating Adebisi, he coolly clipped it and his effort took a touch off the Alex’s goalkeeper’s back before nestling in the back of the Crewe net. It was an excellent finish.
With two minutes to go, Murphy received a fantastic ovation from both the home and away fans as he was replaced by young Regan Griffiths. What an amazing gesture.
Murphy was not on the pitch to see the final goal, again scored by Harrison in the final minute. Bamford got away again and Harrison tucked it away with aplomb after Jaaskelainen had saved well from Roberts. The Finn was rightly disappointed because he certainly didn’t deserve to concede three goals on the night.