Dale smashes home winner from Murphy pass to see Alex back to winning ways.
A wonderful pass from Luke Murphy and equally good finish from Owen Dale gave Crewe Alexandra all three points at Northampton. Dale executed Murphy’s pass across the box to finally break the deadlock with 15 minutes remaining. The game had been crying out for that level of quality with chances few and far between over the 90 minutes but Crewe had looked the more likely side to produce that one key moment.
Crewe Alexandra had to produce a different type of battling performance to get back to winning way on the road. It was about winning those personal battles and trying to get a grip on the possession in a game littered with fouls and unnecessary stoppages. In truth, it was more scrappy than vintage, but Crewe wouldn’t mind one jot after winning at the Sixfields Stadium for the first time since February 2007.
Will Jaaskelainen kept a clean-sheet on his return to the side with Northampton substitute, Ryan Edmondson, spurning their best chance of the game just before Dale’s winner, when he could only lob his effort into the side netting from a good position.
In the wake of last weekend’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Burton Albion, David Artell elected to make five changes for the trip to Northampton. Returning to the starting XI came goalkeeper Jaaskelainen, full-back Donervon Daniels and centre-half Olly Lancashire. Callum Ainley made his first start since the hamstring injury he sustained early on in our FA Cup tie against Cheltenham Town back in late November. Ainley successfully came through most of the second half against Burton.
Chris Porter led the forward line ahead of Mikael Mandron, who started on the substitutes’ bench. Ryan Wintle, Nathan Wood, Rio Adebisi and goalkeeper also started in reserve for the trip to Sixfields.
Prior to kick-off, the Alex players warmed up in t-shirts to offer their support to our incredible Academy youngster, Ashton Hulme, as he bravely battles against cancer. Our thoughts are very much with him and his family.
The game started with some early aerial duals, with Porter up and challenging at one end and Lancashire doing the same in defence at the other. Due to a period of free-kicks, long throws and contested mid-air balls, it took the opening 10 minutes before the game settled into any real passing rhythm.
An early Northampton free-kick from the Crewe left, was inventive from the training ground with a couple of dummy runs thrown in for good measure, but Mickel Miller over-hit his delivery into the mid-drift of Jaaskelainen.
Ainley, who possesses that knack of finding himself in pockets of open space, did just that on 10 minutes. The midfielder drifted into the Northampton half of the pitch but couldn’t quite get the ball out of his feet to release the rushing through Lowery. It was instead worked out to the right hand side and Dale’s low cross was cleared.
That encouragement resulted in Crewe creating the best opening of the opening 15 minutes. Ainley was again involved in the build up and with Northampton appealing for an offside flag, Kirk was alert enough to slip through. His shot was pushed out by Jon Mitchell and fell to a Northampton shirt instead of Ainley loitering on the penalty spot.
Northampton’s best opening in the early exchanges fell to Mark Marshall, but Daniels did fantastically well to throw himself at the shot and block it.
Crewe had some height and presence of their own and we looked a threat from our set-pieces and corners. Lancashire headed one wide of the target after coming around the back at a Kirk corner. The Alex winger did well again moments later to oppose two and deliver from the by-line, but again it didn’t quite fall to an Alex player. We had loaded the Northampton box as well.
It continued to be defences on top with chances limited. There were certainly more free-kicks and time delaying tactics! The game needed some real quality to emerge.
Four minutes before half-time an unfortunate slip from Murphy on half way, allowed Ryan Watson to play in Sam Hoskins down our left and his low cross was halted by Daniels up against Miller and Bryn Morris lashed the loose ball high over the crossbar.
Players continued to slip on what appeared a tricky pitch in places and Murphy ended the half with a yellow card after losing his footing in a challenge with Miller. Beckles joined him soon after for colliding into Marshall. Crewe survived the final free-kick going into our penalty area with Murphy heading clear.
In truth, the second period could only be an improvement on the first.
In the opening couple of minutes, Shaun McWilliams was booked for a high challenge on Murphy. The experienced Alex midfielder needed treatment before he could resume. Ainley hit an early free kick from a wide position into the gloves of a grateful Mitchell as Crewe’s two centre-halves and Porter waited in earnest.
At the other end, Hoskins wriggled free into space inside the Alex penalty areas, but thrashed his shot off target before Danny Rose replaced Marshall.
The foul count continued to rise but the activity occurring inside box boxes didn’t. Porter went down under a clumsy challenge from Lloyd Jones but for once Sam Allison didn’t reach for his whistle.
He did moments later when Dale was tripped close to the touchline. Pickering’s wickedly struck delivery aimed at the near post resulted in Mitchell doing really ahead of Porter aiming to get something of his head to it and divert it past the Northampton goalkeeper.
In a quest to try and get more control of the possession in midfield, Artell made his first change on 68 minutes with Wintle replacing Ainley with 20 minutes remaining. Milller also made way for Ryan Edmondson for the Cobblers.
The newly introduced Northampton substitute had a great chance with his first real touch but his attempted lob missed the target when if he had been accurate it would beaten the advanced Jaaskelainen.
Edmondson would have sunk even lower just a minute later. The game had been crying out for a moment of quality and Murphy’s outside of the foot pass and drilled finish from Dale provided it on 74 minutes. Dale watched the pass perfectly across the box before getting over it to powerfully fire through Mitchell’s concerted effort to keep it out. It was Dale’s 9th goal of the season and gave Crewe a cushion for the final 15 minutes.
The hard working Porter made way for Mandron in the closing minutes, as Crewe had that one goal advantage and clean-sheet to protect. Wintle operated just ahead of the centre-halves for that extra protection and Northampton never troubled Jaaskelainen during the dying minutes.
The Railwaymen saw the game out perfectly, keeping the ball, mostly in the Northampton half and putting Adebisi on for Kirk.