Alex suffer sucker punch in the 97th minute as Sunderland hit back from 2-0 down to draw.
Sunderland needed two wonders strikes in the second half to prevent Crewe Alexandra from claiming a major scalp in League One this afternoon. The Railwaymen had deservedly led 2-0 at the interval after a fantastic first period of football. The former Black Cat, Mikael Mandron, turned provider to lay goals on a plate for Chris Porter and Tom Lowery. In truth it could have been more.
But credit Lee Johnson’s side for a spirited comeback late on. They hit back with fantastic strikes from substitutes’ Jordan Jones and then in the 7th minute of stoppage time from Chris Maguire. It was heartbreaking for the Alex who had gone toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the division. In the end we had to settle for a point after a thrilling game of football and we arguably deserved more.
David Artell named an unchanged side for the visit of Sunderland to the Alexandra Stadium. On the back of a hard fought win over Accrington Stanley in mid-week, the Alex boss had the luxury of naming an unchanged 18-man squad.
Full-back Donervon Daniels started his second consecutive game after returning from injury and the former Sunderland striker, Mikael Mandron, once again partnered Chris Porter in the same 4-4-2 formation.
After an early shot over the top of the crossbar from Sunderland’s number 10, Aiden O’Brien, Crewe Alexandra took control. There was a loud shout for a penalty when Chris Porter was found by Luke Murphy and after he took a positive touch, he went down under a challenge from Luke O’Nien but referee Sarginson was well placed and waved away any appeals.
Crewe were vibrant, snapping into tackles and regaining numerous second balls. When Sunderland were sloppy in possession, the Alex were alive to the quick turnaround. Kirk found Lowery and after a tidy spin, he shot straight at Lee Burge from 20 yards.
Dave Richards was called into action, making a fine save from Lynden Gooch. He had to get down well to push his well struck effort away and Wyke was ruled offside from the rebound.
Nathan Wood was excellent in possession, pinging a couple of noteworthy passes into Kirk and Pickering in advanced positions. He was also a threat from set-pieces, heading one onto the roof of the net and another that Burge had to push over.
After Callum McFadzean made a bit of a mess from a throw-in, the ball was presented to Kirk in front of the Sunderland goal and after he took a sublime touch, he lifted beyond Burge and seemed to be clipped - but centre-half, Dion Sanderson made a necessary clearance from close to the line.
Crewe’s continuous pressure finally told on the half an hour mark. The influential Wintle played Mandron in behind the Sunderland defensive line and he slid over a perfect cross for Porter to help himself to another tap-in. It was Porter’s second successive goal following his return to the starting line-up and his fourth of the season. It was well deserved.
McFadzean was booked for pulling down Lowery as he threatened to get away and it was no wonder they were looking to halt the creative midfielder because he excelled all over the pitch.
Lowery’s industrious first-half was rewarded with the second goal. Pickering pinched possession back to find Porter in tons of space down the left hand side and he found Lowery on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area. Lowery in turn found Mandron and he quickly stepped into the Sunderland box. He went at O’Nien before producing the perfect cross for Lowery to guide home his third goal of the season. Mandron had two assists and the Alex had the comfort of a two goal lead heading in the break.
With Lee Johnson bellowing from the technical area, it was no surprise that Sunderland stirred in the final minutes of the half. Josh Scowen had a late effort blocked by the colossus Wood and we stood up to the corner.
It was to be expected that Sunderland would raise their game and they had early half chances through Charlie Wyke, who shot over and Max Power drove a shot wide from the edge of the box.
After failing to make an early breakthrough, Johnson made four changes at once to shake things up. He turned to Maguire, Jones, Leadbitter and Jack Diamond to get back them back into the game. They soon lost Leadbitter through a serious shoulder injury and he had to be stretched off and had to be replaced by Carl Winchester. The stoppage time would be decisive.
Crewe continued to look a threat though and a lovely more should have seen Porter collect a pass from Lowery inside the box in a very good position. Lowery also had a fantastic chance at the far post after Pickering had picked him out with a fantastic cross. The midfielder took the ball down and did everything right but had his shot unbelievably blocked by Sanderson. It kept Sunderland in the contest.
Sunderland were restricted to half chances. Wyke headed over from a corner before they got their passage back into the game. Following a short delay due to a Luke Murphy injury, Sunderland’s substitute Jordan Jones collected the ball out wide, cut inside up against Lowery, before unleashing an unstoppable shot into Richards’ top left hand corner. It was the lifeline they needed.
Moments later, the visitors were close to equalising. Another wonderful delivery from Maguire just missed out the diving O’Nien.
Nathan Wood also deflected a cross into the gloves of Richards before Owen Dale was introduced for the hard working Porter.
With five minutes left, Mandron had a chance with an attempted lob by Burge got a strong hand on it and Sanderson cleared the danger. If it had gone 3-1, it would surely been over.
Kirk and Pickering also combined down the left hand side, with the winger having a shot blocked.
As it was, Crewe were punished in the 97th minute. Sunderland’s Burge send it forward and after an aerial dual, the ball bounced perfectly and Maguire hit an unstoppage half volley past a helpless Richards for a dramatic equaliser. It was another wonderous strike that broke Crewe's stubborn resilience.
There was one late chance for Johnson’s side to win it but Winchester’s header bounced onto the roof of the net.