Ainley hits winner from Dale's pull-back to seal three points at the Memorial Stadium.
Callum Ainley hit his first goal of the season as Crewe ended their away campaign with a deserved 1-0 win at relegated Bristol Rovers. Ainley got himself into the box to coolly slot home an Owen Dale pull back to seal another win of the road for David Artell's men.
Crewe had more chances to make the scoreline more comfortable and because we were not clincial enough, had to rely on Will Jaaskelainen to make one or two smart saves.
David Artell made two changes to the Crewe Alexandra side that drew in dramatic fashion at Charlton in mid-week. Due to slight knocks, both Tom Lowery and Nathan Wood, missed the trip to Bristol’s Memorial Stadium meaning recalls for Antony Evans and Olly Lancashire.
Crewe had a young bench with Travis Johnson, Joe Robbins and Academy youngster Zak Williams making the eighteen. Williams had been promoted to the senior squad as defensive cover.
Crewe Alexandra confidently began in possession and on the front foot and it was Bristol Rovers doing much of the chasing in the opening minutes. After just four minutes, Rovers captain, Luke Leahy slid into a timely tackle on Owen Dale as he threatened to break down the right hand side and he seemed to twist his ankle. After brief treatment, he was able to continue.
In fact, Dale had to perform some defensive duties of his own when heading clear of Leahy after he had broken forward to try and meet a cross from Brandon Hanlan coming from the Crewe right.
Crewe’s first attempt on the Bristol Rovers goal came via the unlikely source of right-back, Adebisi. He calmly bought down and then volleyed a looping effort from the edge of the box after a clearance had dropped invitingly to him from a corner. Barely a minute later, Josh Hare headed over the Alex crossbar after being placed under severe pressure by Donervon Daniels and Harry Pickering.
On 19 minutes, Crewe broke fantastically well down our right hand side. Adebisi hit a splendid longer ball for Dale to utilise his pace up against centre-half Jack Baldwin. After bumping him, Dale went unopposed into the Bristol box and unselfishly selected the perfect pass for Callum Ainley to gleefully tuck past Joe Day for his first goal of the season.
It was a wonderfully crafted goal and for all our possession and probing, we had thoroughly deserved to have broken the deadlock.
To their credit, the home side tried to respond almost immediately. The lively Hanlan got in behind the Crewe back line for a second time and the supportive Josh Hare unleashed a powerful drive that Will Jaaskelainen did well to touch round the post.
Another Crewe break saw Mandron regain possession 30 yards from goal and find Kirk and he was quite blatantly blocked off by the struggling Baldwin. From the resultant free-kick, Evans struck clear of the crossbar.
Evans was getting more involved in the game and after winning a free-kick from Hanlan, the second phase of play inside the Bristol box saw him lift a cross to the far post that Dale stretched to place his header onto the top of the netting. Dale perhaps should have left it for his skipper, tucked up behind him.
Moments later, a fantastic passing move from the Alex saw us shift the ball from back-to-front and it was such a shame that Wintle’s low cross just couldn’t find Ainley for a tap-in. It was intercepted before it could reach him and prevented a team goal of the season.
On 34 minutes, more pressing from Crewe saw Mandron rob Erhun Oztumer and after a quick interchange of passes with Wintle, the forward slipped Kirk straight in on goal but unfortunately, for the winger he slipped at the crucial moment. He did well to keep the ball alive and find Ainley but we couldn’t punish the Rovers defence for their lapse in concentration.
Dale continued to terrorise Leahy and after cutting back inside, he whistled a wonderful shot just wide of the far post. Mandron also climbed highest to meet a Pickering cross but he couldn’t get above it to keep it below Day’s crossbar. Oztumer surrendered possession cheaply again moments later and he was lucky that Kirk sliced his shot wide of the far post.
The chances continued to arrive for a confident Alex and in truth we needed to finish another one of them off. After Daniels had lifted a perfect pass into Evans, Kirk was again involved before Ainley was unfortunate to see his fierce shot just clear Day’s crossbar.
Baldwin’s troubled afternoon continued after a clumsy challenge on Mandron on the edge of the box saw him rightly booked.
In first half stoppage time, Crewe had to survive some late Bristol Rovers pressure. Dale poked away the first cross and Leahy’s curling effort had to be pushed behind for a corner on the follow-up by Jaaskelainen.
Crewe were soon on the front foot again in the second half and after Mandron had flicked on a Kirk cross, Dale lashed wastefully over from what was a promising position.
Bristol Rovers nearly punished Crewe on the counter-attack. Crewe were caught up field from our own free-kick and after a swift break, Jaaskelainen was called upon to tip a shot from Hare around the post for another corner. It could have been worse for the Alex, who had been struggling to get numbers back.
Ainley shot over before Barton replaced Hare with Liddle and Oztumer for Daly. Crewe had to defend a number of free-kicks entering our box but Lancashire and Daniels usually dealt with that.
With just the one goal separating the two sides, it was evenly poised with 20 minutes left. Dale twisted and turned inside the Bristol box but on this occasion just couldn’t find a red shirt with his pull back.
Daniels had an impressive afternoon but when stretching to intercept a through ball aimed for Daly, the centre-half seemed to aggravate a thigh muscle and he had to be replaced by Omar Beckles. Rovers soon lost Hanlan through injury and he had to be replaced by Zane Walker.
With just over 10 minutes left on the clock, Jaaskelainen had to produce another save when Leahy unleashed from 25 yards out. It was central enough for the Alkex stopper to get two firm hands behind it and push it clear of danger.
With 5 minutes left, Evans produced a moment of real class to nearly net his first goal for the club. The on-loan midfielder drifted past two Bristol bodies with a deft touch only to be denied in a one-on-one situation with Day. It deserved a goal.
Alex lost Mandron soon after and Porter became our first change of the afternoon. With the goal advantage, Crewe kept the ball for as long as possible to make sure we won our final away game of the campaign thanks to Ainley’s cool finish from Dale’s assist.