Another strike from Finney sees Crewe pick up a deserved point after Plymouth gifted an early penalty at Home Park.
David Artell marked his 200th game in charge of Crewe Alexandra with a 1-1 draw at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park. In the build-up to today’s game, the Alex boss wasn’t aware of his landmark number of games in charge since succeeding Steve Davis just over four years ago and he wouldn’t have cared one jot after his Crewe side deservedly fought back from the award of a dubious penalty early on to remain unbeaten in eight games.
Crewe found themselves behind after just 10 minutes after our former midfielder, Conor Grant, went down under a ‘challenge’ from Luke Offord. It was soft to say the least and Luke Jephcott slotted home the penalty.
The Alex were we excellent in the second period and deservedly drew level after a well worked move and fine finish from the in-form Oli Finney. He tucked away Mikael Mandron’s pass with the outside of his foot.
Crewe had more of the ball and pushed on looking to claim all three points but also had Dave Richards to thank for making some good saves to deny Jephcott, and Panutche Camara. Camara wouldn’t complete the game after picking his second yellow card in stoppage time.
Goalkeeper, Dave Richards, made his first league start for three months at Home Park. The Welshman replaced the young Finn, Will Jaaskelainen, to start a League One match for the first time since the 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic back in October. His recall marked his 33rd appearance for Crewe.
Defender Ollie Lancashire also returned to the Crewe Alexandra starting line up to rekindle his partnership with Omar Beckles in the centre of the defence. Luke Offord once again showed his versatility by switching to right-back with Travis Johnson dropping back to the substitutes’ bench. Club captain, Perry Ng wasn’t included in the 18 after serving his six-match suspension for the incident at the end of the FA Cup tie at Cheltenham Town.
There was also a boost with the news that Tom Lowery was fit enough to take his place on the bench but Daniel Powell was again not fit enough to travel after struggling with a slight knee injury.
Ryan Lowe named the former Crewe loanee midfielder, Conor Grant, in his starting line-up and winger Byron Moore on his bench. George Cooper is ruled out for the season after having knee surgery.
Crewe had to deal with an early Grant corner coming in from the left but Lancashire rose highest to clear.
Dale had a couple of early opportunities to expose the Plymouth defence but his final passes into Kirk on the opposite wing and then Wintle, as he burst from midfield, didn’t reach their intended target. A truer pass may well have seen Crewe conjure up the first genuine chance of the afternoon.
That first one came via the penalty spot.
The home side were literally gifted a penalty after just 10 minutes. Grant collected the ball outside of the Crewe penalty area and after drifting away from Murphy, he went over Offord’s leg. The Alex defender couldn’t help but stand there and Grant went over softly to win the spot-kick. The Alex players were incensed with referee Charles Breakspear for awarding the penalty because Grant had seemingly played him. It didn’t look a penalty and replays confirmed it.
The in-form, Luke Jephcott, stepped up and put Richards the wrong way to give the Pilgrims an early lead.
Crewe needed to get up the pitch more and put Plymouth under some pressure. A more promising combination of passes allowed Murphy, the time and space to get a shot off from the edge of the box but his well struck effort just drifted away from Michael Cooper’s right hand post.
Danny Mayor continued to probe with his ability to carry the ball and on minutes he slipped Panutche Camara into the left channel of the box but his shot was collected by Richards.
Two minutes later, Crewe had a fantastic opportunity to equalise. Patient play involving Kirk and the overlapping Pickering saw Kirk then slip Finney in behind, but his shot was tame from just outside the six yard box and Cooper collected.
Crewe were beginning to grow in the game but continued to be incensed with the assistant referee’s indecision when it came to raising his flag for some clear offside runs from Ryan Hardie!
Just after the half hour mark, a clever flick from Dale released Wintle into considerable space but after entering the Plymouth box, he couldn’t find a red shirt and his cross was frustratingly blocked for a corner. It could have been so much more because Wintle had the opportunity to shoot himself.
At the other end, Richards did well to anticipate a low cross from Hardie to intercept before it reached Camara in the centre. The Crewe goalkeeper did even better on 38 minutes after Camara found Jephcott centrally. The Plymouth goalscorer struck it well enough but Richards was equal to it, pushing it away for a corner.
Moments later, he was at it again to make a solid save from Grant after he had drilled one in from just over 20 yards. It would have done his confidence wonders.
Richards’ saves and Wintle late header close to the line kept the game at 1-0 heading into the half-time interval.
Crewe had an early injury scare at the beginning of the second half when Mandron was caught by Jerome Opoku and landed awkwardly on his knee, but the robust striker was able to run it off and continue.
Mayor whipped over a really tempting ball that only need a touch to really trouble the Crewe defence before Mandron broke the offside trap before shooting too close to Cooper. It was a decent chance but under pressure from the retreating Opoku, he couldn’t quite get enough power on his shot to force the goalkeeper into a more uncomfortable save.
Joe Edwards, the Plymouth skipper, was booked for pulling Murphy back as he threatened to approach the backline - but Crewe failed to make the most of the free-kick.
Opoku soon joined him in the book for a foul on Murphy. That was to be Murphy’s last contribution in the game as he made way for Lowery on the hour mark.
Grant fired in a shot that was pushed out by Richards and he was there again to save Camara’s follow up effort.
Lowery’s first involvement saw him burst through a couple of Plymouth bodies to find Kirk but the winger’s final ball into Finney wasn’t tidy enough and it was cleared. Moments later, Kirk did exceedingly better to find Pickering and his well struck shot was blocked just ahead of Cooper.
The contest continued to ebb and flow with the next goal being crucial to the way it was going to go.
On 65 minutes, the equaliser deservedly came. Wintle did brilliantly in the build up to find Mandron and after spinning, he slipped a perfect pass through the legs of Opoku and Finney ran on to it, before coolly finishing with the outside of his foot. It was a terrific finish that gave Cooper absolutely no chance of saving it. It was Finney’s 7th of the season and his fourth in his last four games.
Crewe were level and evidently on top at the time. Mandron had a deflected effort saved by Cooper before Owen Dale side footed an effort into the gloves of the Plymouth goalkeeper after he had tricked his way past Kell Watts.
Ryan Lowe had seen enough and swapped Frank Nouble for Hardie in his forward line.
Kirk’s sublime skill off the wing saw him lift the ball over his marker, before switching play to Dale and he teed up the supportive Offord and his firm shot was deflected behind for a corner.
Mandron’s curler cleared the crossbar before he made way for Porter.
Major made way for Adam Lewis but not before he was booked for a foul on Dale. Camara was also booked, as was Offord for the Alex.
With 9 minutes left on the clock, Richards again showed his agility to push away an effort from Camara after Gant had rolled the ball across to him on the edge of our box. It was another decisive stop from the Welshman.
Porter went close to turning home low cross from Pickering but to his credit, Opoku slid in to deny him and concede a corner. The referee gave a goal kick!
Crewe continued to press looking for another late winner. We had looked the more likely to do so throughout the second half.
With the minutes ticking away and Crewe not wanting the end of the game, Lowe introduced the fresh legs of Dom Telford for Jephcott.
Plymouth were holding on and they had to hold on even more in stoppage time when Camara was sent off following his second yellow.
Dale had a late effort hit Watts on the backside after Cooper had allowed a cross to slip from his grasp and Lowery shot straight down the throat of the Plymouth goalkeeper as we went in search of that second goal.