Poor night for the Alex as Gillingham end our 10 game unbeaten run by winning 4-1 at the Priestfield
Crewe Alexandra’s proud run of going 10 games unbeaten in League One abruptly ended at the Priestfield Stadium this evening. There is no disguising that the Railwaymen produced their worst 45 minutes of the season in conceding three avoidable goals to Steve Evans’ side in an uncharacteristic first half from us.
The home side were handed a 10th minute penalty after Travis Johnson had felled Jordan Graham and then we gifted the Gills two other first half goals due to our own loose passing in our back third. Olly Lee’s touch and finish from Graham’s low cross made it 2-0 after 37 minutes and a third was added in stoppage time after we had virtually played Kyle Dempsey in ourselves. It was so uncharacteristic from us in the run we are in and it was difficult to phantom out why such mistakes had reappeared.
Lee’s looping header on the hour mark past Dave Richards ended any hopes of a Rochdale-style comeback coming from us.
The Alex with a plethora of substitutes on the pitch by then did pull one back with just over 10 minutes remaining. The on-loan Antony Evans on for Ryan Wintle created a close range finish for Chris Porter. It was one rare positive from a hugely disappointing night.
After only completing his loan move from Rotherham United last week, full-back Billy Jones was not risked to play two games in such a short space of time. Jones’ limited action with the Millers this season meant that Travis Johnson returned to the starting line-up on the right. Fellow Academy graduate, Rio Adebisi started on the left hand side in the absence of the injured Harry Pickering.
The former Gillingham forward, Mikael Mandron was fit enough to travel and take his place on the substitutes bench. Recent loan signings, Stephen Walker and Antony Evans were also named in the squad for the trip to Kent.
Vadaine Oliver led the line for Steve Evans’ side at the Priestfield Stadium.
Crewe almost made the ultimate start in the game. From the kick-off, a fluid passing move saw Crewe attack with real intent down our left channel. Charlie Kirk carried the initial danger into the Gillingham box and some clever one touch passing presented the in-form Oli Finney with an early sight at Jack Bonham’s goal. The midfielder shaped his body perfectly to bend it into the opposite corner but his effort hit Robbie Cundy and deflected behind for a corner. It was a fantastic early opportunity for the Alex.
The contest continued at a hectic rate with the home side immediately looking to hit the front and Crewe needing to keep possession and beat their eager press. It made for a frantic opening ten minutes that was finally interrupted by Gillingham’s penalty award. Johnson was caught out by the Gills number 10, Jordan Graham, and his messy challenge saw him go over. Referee, Alan Young was right there and instantly pointed to the spot. Graham picked himself and the ball up and struck his firm spot-kick past Richards for the opening goal.
Crewe continued to get joy from the flanks and it evidently held our best chance of getting back into the game. More progressive play from the left saw Lowery pull one back for Finney but he drove his shot just wide of the crossbar. Finney was again operating in some threatening positions.
From an Adebisi corner from the right, Beckles wrestled free to head straight at Bonham. At the other end, Richards was called into action when the Gills captain, Kyle Dempsey powered a header goalwards. The Alex goalkeeper had to apply a strong hand to divert it away.
Gillingham had a long throw-in from Ryan Jackson and Crewe had to withstand a couple of scrambles to clear after the ball bounced or was flicked on. Richards’ next save was more comfort from our former forward, Vadaine Oliver, after another cross had made it into our area.
Just after the half an hour mark, a sharp build up from the left saw Kirk drift into a creative position and release Finney. The midfielder floated over a really teasing cross that evaded all of the gold and black shirts trying to get there.
On 37 minutes, the home side doubled their lead. Beckles’ pass out into midfield was intercepted and the ball was instantly played into Graham. He whipped over a low cross that allowed Olly Lee to take a deft touch to evade Beckles and as Richards raced from his line to try and smother his shot, he slipped the ball past them all for 2-0. It was a tidy finish from Lee and now gave Crewe a mass mountain to climb.
Crewe continued to probe, mostly down our left hand side and after more good work from Kirk, his far post cross found Dale but after pulling it down, his shot was blocked. From the corner, the delivery just missed the head of Beckles and Lancashire behind him.
Things got worse before the break too and we were our own worst enemies. Again we were loose in possession in our final third and this time Lowery was caught out by the determined Dempsey and he went straight through the centre of our defence to slot home a third goal in stoppage time. Crewe were 3-0 down at the interval and there was no doubt that we had contributed to our own downfall with our uncharacteristic poor passing close to our own goal.
Oliver was booked within seconds of the restart for a foul on Lancashire and from an early Alex corner, Ryan Wintle sent his long range back with interest but it was too central for Bonham to let it slip from his grasp.
With little to lose, a rallying response from the Alex should have seen Owen Dale pull one back just five minutes into the second half. Adebisi did exceptionally well to hit the by-line and pull his low cross back across the six-yard box and after missing Porter; Dale could only blast over the bar from a really good position. You would have backed the winger from there.
It could have perhaps given us a chink of light but that was well and truly distinguished on the hour mark when Lee notched his second goal of the night with a looping header that defeated Richards. It had arrived from another Graham delivery entering our box.
The fourth goal prompted a double change from David Artell. Walker and Murphy replaced Dale and Murphy.
It was turning into a night to forget in Kent and although we were well below par, you also had to credit Gillingham, who do what they do, extremely well. They competed and pressed from start to finish and when their chances came or were given to them, they certainly took them.
With 18 minutes left on the clock, Ant Evans came on to mark his debut for the club for Wintle in the Alex midfield. Barely a minute later, Oliver thought he had his goal against his former club but his header was ruled out for offside.
Gillingham’s debutant defender, Cundy did well to head an Adebisi free-kick behind for a corner and in the second phase, Murphy’s shot was shut down and it spun behind for a goal kick.
Regan Griffiths was introduced as we entered the final 10 minutes or so with Kirk making way. It would be a valuable experience for him.
A fantastic burst from Evans did see Crewe pull one back on 79 minutes. The on-loan midfielder showed real desire to make it to the by-line and his low cross was tucked home from close range by Porter.
It nearly got even better for the Alex after quick throw-in released Finney down the right flank. He shrugged off one challenge and on entering the box, he elected to go alone and blasted into the mid-drift of Bonham. It was a decent save.
The loan pair of Evans and Walker still had time to combine really well down the right flank. Evans raced forward before finding Walker. His clever chop back gave him the necessary time and space to return the pass into Evans but he could only stir his shot a yard wide. It was encouraging though.
Oliver made way for the giant John Akine and to waste more time, Alex McDonald replaced the excellent Graham for the Gills. Another soon followed with Lee making way for Stuart O’Keefe.
With time out, Finney had a good chance to add to his recent goal tally but he fired wide and Johnson was booked for a late foul in ther dying seconds. It about summed up our night.