Crewe see a 3-0 half time lead disappear as Rochdale fight back in the second period to draw.
Crewe Alexandra saw a 3-0 half-time lead at Rochdale disappear in the second half and instead of leaving the Crown Oil Arena with all three points, we had to settle for one after the home side gallantly fought back to draw. It felt like a loss.
Crewe Alexandra had demonstrated their real ruthless streak in the first half to score three goals thanks to a double from Oli Finney and another from Owen Dale. Crewe were lethal in the final third of the pitch in the first period, especially on the counter-attack with attacking midfielder, Oli Finney, helping himself to a brace and an assist for Owen Dale’s splendid finish. Charlie Kirk was influential in two of the goals while Travis Johnson’s quick and accurate cross was dispatched brilliantly by Finney after just six minutes.
Crewe were firmly in command at the break but the home side pulled one back just two minutes into the second half when a cross from Stephen Humphrys missed out everybody to end up in the Crewe net. And when our former midfielder Matt Lund made it 3-2 on the hour, it really was game on again as the snow began to fall in Greater Manchester.
Then with just seven minutes remaining, Lund lifted a shot into the roof of the Crewe net following a corner and what appeared to be a block on Will Jaaskelainen, it could have become even worse.
Crewe were incensed in the 65th minute when the referee clearly gave a penalty for handball after Beckles’ header from a corner had struck a hand but the assistant referee overruled the decision.
David Artell was able to name an unchanged side from the one that drew 1-1 with Fleetwood Town on Boxing Day. The re-arrangement of our League One fixture against Rochdale becomes the club’s captain Perry Ng’s final game of his six-game suspension. Young Travis Johnson once again deputised at right-back and Harry Pickering on the opposite flank wore the armband in Ng’s absence.
Artell had to rely on some of the club’s younger contingent on the substitutes’ bench with Joe Robbins, Nathan Woodthorpe and Ty Onyeka named in the squad of 18.
Rochdale named the former Crewe Academy youngster, Matty Lund, in their starting line-up. Lund joined Stoke City from Crewe at the end of his scholarship - but has gone on to carve out a fine career in the EFL.
Due to the incredible work of the Rochdale ground staff and the common sense of the match officials, the game got the go ahead to commence. The pitch was in fine condition considering the depleting temperatures over night. The efforts of AFC Rochdale throughout the night and into the morning deserve enormous credit.
In the build up to the game, Artell had suggested that Rochdale, under their young manager, Brian Barry-Murphy, would play a possession game and in the early exchanges it was evident that they would be eager to pass out from the back whenever possible. They were confident enough to involve the footwork of their goalkeeper, Gavin Bazuna as well.
Crewe Alexandra’s style will never change and after only six minutes, a wonderful delivery from Johnson from the right was dispatched on the volley by Finney. It was a wonderful strike from the edge of the box that flashed past Bazuna for his fifth goal of the season. He wouldn’t have to wait too long for his next one!
Despite the early set-back, Rochdale continued to have more of the ball but Crewe pressed and hunted in numbers and restricted their genuine chances on our goal. Omar Beckles was called upon to block a shot from Alex Newby after we had failed to clear the box with conviction.
On 14 minutes, Will Jaaskelainen, was forced into his first meaningful save when he had to push a downward header from Matty Done behind for a corner. From the second phase of the corner, Dale performed his defensive duties to block a shot from Haydon Roberts.
It continued to be an attractive encounter with both sides playing the right way and it was a rarity when the referee was called upon to blow his whistle for an infringement.
Newby showed great tricky to glide into the box and Crewe had to rely on a combination of Beckles and then Pickering to crowd out a possible chance for Roberts inside the box.
Crewe stood firm under some pressure and went up the other end and hit them on counter-attack with a fantastically crafted goal on 23 minutes. Following a drop of the shoulder from Wintle, he found Kirk in space out on the left and he was allowed to carry unchallenged before sweeping the ball over to Finney just inside the box. Finney passed it on first time to Dale and the in-form winger tucked home his 6th goal of the season with another composed finish into the opposite corner. It really was a terrific team goal and Dale was able to extend his fabulous run in front of goal. That is now five goals in his last seven games for the December player-of-the-month for League One.
Rochdale tried to hit back before the half an hour mark and following a strong run from Stephen Humphrys, his shot from 20 yards was just inches above the Crewe crossbar.
Kirk and Pickering combined again down the left and the captain’s floated cross found Mandron, but under intense pressure he couldn’t quite get enough power on it to really test the Rochdale goalkeeper.
On 35 minutes, Crewe produced another stunning counter-attack stemming from a Rochdale corner. Jaaskelainen was decisive in coming to punch and after a shot was charged down on the edge of the box, the ball spun invitingly into the path of Kirk in his own half. Rochdale had only left one back in defender Eoghan O’Connell, and Kirk attacked the space with relish. To their credit, his team-mates made the burst with him, with a real desire to get into the box and it was Finney again, helping himself to a tap-in for 3-0. Crewe were firmly in control at the Crown Oil Arena.
O’Connell in his pursuit of Kirk was forced off through injury and had to be replaced by the experienced Paul McShane.
Before the half time interval, that Crewe arguably didn’t want or need, Beckles headed firmly into the gloves of Bazunu as Crewe aimed to add another before the break. The Rochdale goalkeeper also did extremely well to race from his line and block an attempted lob over him by Mandron.
Crewe would have expected a reaction from Rochdale and within two minutes they had pulled one back. Humphry’s swung in a cross from the right and it deceived a number of bodies before dropping into the opposite side of the Crewe goal. It gave Rochdale some hope of reigniting a contest.
That was so nearly extinguished when just minutes later, Mandron showed great power and desire to make life uncomfortable for Roberts and he was unfortunate to see his poked shot just clear the far post.
A wonderful flick from Kirk send Pickering to the by-line and his drilled cross only needed a touch from a red shirt after Bazunu didn’t grasp it inside his six yard box. It was a let off for the Rochdale stopper. He did considerably better when denying Mandron from close range after a shot from Finney deflected into his path. The keeper did well to spread himself and prevent Mandron from registering a fourth for the Railwaymen.
Those missed chances really began to haunt us when Rochdale struck again on the hour mark. Rochdale’s pressure in and around of box was repelled by some blocks before the ball eventually dropped to Lund and his well-placed shot from the edge of the box saw the home side right back in the contest.
Crewe thought they had been awarded a penalty on 65 minutes when a header from Beckles hit a hand at a corner. Referee, Andy Haines was right there to blow for the handball but under protest from the Rochdale players, he went over to consult his assistant, who overruled it. Crewe were incensed because the main official had had a clear view of it and had awarded it without hesitation.
Rochdale went close to drawing level after a bobbling ball caused trouble in the Crewe back line and Lund’s firm shot took a nick off a Crewe shirt before just clearing the crossbar.
After play was switched from left to right, a forceful run and cross from Dale saw his effort clear the dive of the Rochdale goalkeeper and smack the far post. It stayed out and Kirk couldn’t find a red shirt in the follow up. The next goal was going to be crucial as we entered the final section of an enthralling game.
With just the one goal in it, Crewe had to continue to concentrate and get bodies behind the ball, whilst also looking to spring another of those counter-attacks. Rochdale injected fresh legs as we entered the final minutes and it became a physical challenge to see the game through.
Pickering curled one on target after a short corner before substitute Baah, stung the gloves of Jaaskelainen with a powerful shot. He was forced to concede a corner and after he appeared to be blocked off from the set piece, Lund was there at the far post to superbly lift it into the roof of the Crewe net for an 83rd minute equaliser.
Three minutes later, Mandron was replaced by Porter. Dale flashed a shot over the bar after he had again drifted from his wing position and we had to see out a late free-kick going into our box. It should have been three points but we had to settle for one after a real game of two halves.