Henry penalty decides it as the Kassam Stadium as spirited second half display from Alex can't quite force an equaliser.
A 33rd minute penalty from Oxford’s captain, James Henry inflicted Crewe’s second away defeat of the season at the Kassam Stadium. Terell Thomas was adjudged to have fouled Billy Bodin in the area as both players went for a knockdown by Matty Taylor. Henry struck true past a recalled Dave Richards and that proved to be the only goal on the night.
Crewe had two major chances to equalise but Jack Stevens saved Callum Ainley’s low shot before substitute Regan Griffiths was handed our best chance just seconds after replacing Josh Lundstram but he couldn’t direct his free header on target after Ainley had found him.
With a bout of illness in the Alex camp, David Artell did not take any risks with anyone who was feeling unwell for this evening’s fixture at Oxford.
That led to four changes in the starting XI from the defeat at Portsmouth with David Richards, Oli Finney coming back into the fold and new signings, Ben Knight and Terell Thomas, making their debuts for the club. Knight has joined on loan from Manchester City, while Thomas recently completed his permanent switch from AFC Wimbledon.
With some more of the senior players missing from Saturday, there were places on the substitutes’ bench for Regan Griffiths, Joe Robbins and reserve goalkeeper, Sam Booth.
Karl Robinson’s Oxford United side contained the former Crewe loanee wide man, Billy Bodin.
Teenager Knight was quickly in the action, linking up intelligently out on the left wing with Callum Ainley before a linesman’s flag halted their progress.
Oxford United soon began to apply pressure in the Crewe half of the pitch and our tendency to give away a few free-kicks disrupted the flow of the opening 10 minutes. From a promising position, Nathan Holland floated a harmless cross behind Richard’s goal before Cameron Brannagan had a fearsome drive from the centre of the pitch blocked by Luke Offord.
The referee Bob Madley had played a good advantage to allow the play to continue and for Brannagan to get the shot off because Lundstram had caught Holland in the build up and he would need treatment minutes later before being forced off for Dan Agyei.
Moments later, the experienced Madley missed arguably the greatest exhibition of basketball ever seen in the EFL! The Oxford defender Jordan Thorniley ran the ball along the top of his raised arm and back again and no-one could quite believe he didn’t blow for a handball offence!
Crewe began to impose ourselves as an attacking threat and Kayne Ramsay just put too much on a return pass into Oli Finney inside the Oxford penalty area and a short corner routine nearly presented Knight with his first sight of the opposition goal but it was intercepted.
Following a flowing move from the home side that resulted in a corner from the Crewe left, Luke McNally headed over the crossbar and that was followed by Bodin lashing a shot well over the crossbar from a half decent position. Genuine chances had been few and far between in the opening half an hour.
That would all change on 33 minutes when Oxford were awarded a penalty by referee Madley. Rio Adebisi initially pinched possession from Agyei close to the by-line but the winger managed to retrieve it and cross. Matty Taylor threw himself at the cross and as it dropped to Bodin, Thomas was adjudged to have fouled him. It looked a soft award from our vantage point.
The Oxford captain, James Henry, confidently stepped up to put Richards the wrong way for the opening goal of the evening. There had been no gilt-edge chances in the game until that point.
Five minutes before the interval, the U’s had a golden chance to extend their lead but Bodin’s cross shot took the slightest of nicks and Taylor couldn’t stretch far enough at the far post to convert it.
The Alex fans in a pocket of the Kassam Stadium raised the noise levels at the start of the second half. Backed by the drum, they were magnificent.
The first yellow card came to Alex Gorrin after he fouled Rio Adebisi after he was found in an advanced position after some wonderful skill from Thomas as he emerged out of defence.
Oxford lost their second player through injury when Ryan Williams was unable to continue and had to be replaced by John Mousinho.
The pace of Ramsay saw him produce an excellent last ditch tackle to halt a forceful burst from Agyei inside the Crewe penalty area before a shot from 25 yards from Thorniley took a deflection on its way behind. Adebisi was there to head the corner clear of danger.
Knight tried to get the Alex going by using his electric pace to put the Oxford back-line under some pressure and Mandron battled on, usually in the air though.
The Alex certainly enjoyed their best spell of possession as we passed the hour mark. The passing was a lot crisper and we committed more bodies forward in search of a possible equaliser.
Then it was the turn of Oxford to turn the screw on our defence and they forced more corners but we dealt with them fairly comfortably.
On 67 minutes, Crewe created their best opening to date. A wayward header surrendered possession cheaply to Finney and after opening his body up, he hit an outside of the foot pass into the path of Ainley, who faced up by a defender, chopped back before firing low and into the gloves of Jack Stevens. It was certainly a chance to level it.
Oxford’s third change looked to be another injury with Bodin replaced by Gavin Whyte. A minute after the change, Agyei nearly punished some hesitancy in the Crewe defence but his attempted lob missed the goal as Richards came out to oppose him.
Artell made his first substitute of the night with Porter on for Finney with 14 minutes left on the clock.
Offord was then booked for a foul on Taylor as he threatened to get away, it looked another very soft award by the official. It also gave Oxford a shooting opportunity from the free-kick some 20 yards out by Brannagan thumped his effort skywards.
With it still only the one goal diving the two sides, Crewe remained in the contest but Robinson’s side continued to look for a killer second as we entered the final 10 minutes.
A low cross from Mandron was destined for Knight inside a crowded penalty area before an Oxford boot just about prevented it reaching it. With six minutes to go, Regan Griffiths replaced Josh Lundstram and the young midfield was instantly handed a chance to be a hero.
He stole in superbly to break the Oxford offside trap but he couldn’t quite get his downward header on target from Ainley’s excellent cross. It was his first touch and arguably Crewe’s best chance on the night.
He was in there again moments later, trying to get on the end of things and in the final minute Offord had a shot blocked before Adebisi lashed the follow up well clear of the crossbar after a bit of a mass scramble.
Crewe had a real go in the second half and looked a threat in the final 20 minutes but we couldn’t muster a leveller that our improved play possibly deserved.