Forwards Long and Porter both on target but Crewe lose away from home at Plough Lane.
Crewe Alexandra failed to build on a morale boosting 2-0 win over Gillingham at the weekend as they found it hard to contain a relentless AFC Wimbledon side at Plough Lane this evening.
It had actually been a dream start for the Alex too with Chris Long notching his second goal in successive games in the 11th minute once again. The well crafted goal involved Madger Gomes, Tom Lowery and Chris Porter to release Long and his sublime finish from a tight angle at least gave us a platform.
We couldn’t capitalise on the start with an impressively energetic home side steamrolling us in the first 45 minutes. 1-0 up turned to 3-1 down before the half time interval with the right handful Ollie Palmer scoring twice, once from the penalty spot after Luke Murphy had felled Ayoub Assal after surrendering possession from our own throw in.
Crewe had to stand up to some more Wimbledon onslaught in the second half with Palmer denied a hat-trick as the Alex defence put bodies on the line to keep the score getting any worse because the home side certainly went for the jugular in the first part of the second half.
The Alex deserve great credit for the way we defended and the spirit we showed in the closing minutes to make a real fist of a comeback. Zac Williams and Scott Kashket had presentable chances late on before Porter turned in a Long cross to make the last six minutes of stoppage time certainly interesting.
David Artell was forced into one enforced change for the trip to the capital. With Luke Offord collecting a fifth yellow card of the season before tonight’s cut-off point, the young defender had to serve a one match suspension. Offord was booked in the 2-0 win over Gillingham, providing Terell Thomas with the opportunity to return to the starting line-up against his former club.
Midfielder Josh Lundstram, who was unfortunate to miss out on the matchday squad on Saturday was promoted once again to the substitutes bench.
Wimbledon certainly wanted to set an early tempo and Crewe needed Billy Sass-Davies to make a timely interception on the edge of the penalty area before midfielder Anthony Hartigan shot wastefully over the top of the crossbar.
Crewe had to settle into their own passing groove and after adjusting to the pace of the game, the Alex made inroads into the Wimbledon half of the pitch, so much so that Thomas was invited to shoot from distance, but he pulled his effort wide of the target.
On 11 minutes, Crewe produced a fantastic move to open up the Wimbledon defence. Gomes started it all off with a positive burst from our half. The Spaniard found Lowery, who in turn found Porter in the centre of the pitch. Porter’s instant pass was true and accurate and sent Long racing away from the right. He entered the Dons box at an acute angle but drilled his finish superbly across Nik Tzanev and in via the far post. It was a terrific passing move with a fantastic finish to match.
Wimbledon tried to hit back and in truth mixed things up and approached things with a longer ball. Crewe stood firm and defended our box with decisive headers from all three centre-halves. Richards also did well to punch a cross from Luke McCormick into the air and then collect comfortably.
It wasn’t so comfortable when a dangerous free-kick coming in on close on the Alex goalkeeper on 24 minutes resulted in the equaliser. The Dons attacked the cross from the touchline with greater conviction and although Richards managed to push a header away from his goalline, Jack Rudoni was there to bundle home. Crewe didn’t defend the initial cross well enough and provided no protection to Richards when the ball went loose.
The equaliser gave the home side the greater initiative and Ollie Palmer soon dragged a good chance wide of the right hand post.
On the half an hour mark, Crewe rocked again at a corner coming in from the left. Ben Heneghan climbed highest meet the delivery and this time Richards made a reactive save with his body. The ball bounced dangerously close to our goal but after a short melee, the Alex skipper, Murphy, hooked it away from off the floor.
A fluent Wimbledon move saw Ayoub Assal cut back a cross for McCormick and his powerfully driven shot struck his own team-mate Palmer square in the head and he, rather unsurprisingly, needed a period of treatment.
The pressure from the home side finally paid off on 34 minutes. Richards failed to get enough distance on his one handed save and that allowed McCormick to race in and turn it back into the danger zone and Palmer helped himself to a tap-in. His celebration in front of our away supporters was uncalled for and had to result in a booking. It didn’t.
Crewe had struggled with set-pieces all evening and from another Hartigan cross, the forceful centre-half, Heneghan headed down and wide of the mark. It was a let off.
Three minutes to the break and a simple long ball from goalkeeper Tzanev allowed Palmer to race in unopposed, but he over hit his final cross. Crewe were being stretched and needed the interval, we didn’t manage that chance to regroup.
Murphy, uncharacteristically for him got himself in a mess at our own throw-in out on the right and in trying to make amends, he bundled into the back of Assal and the referee had no option but point to the spot. Murphy was booked. Palmer made no mistake with the penalty for 3-1.
A rare flurry into the Wimbledon half of the pitch saw the Alex keep possession well but Adebisi’s deep cross was just too long for Kashket trying to steal in around the back.
Wimbledon came out for the second half determined to score a fourth and to get Palmer the match ball. The robust forward was denied a hat-trick goal by the reactions and agility of Richards to tip his header over the bar. Adebisi then made a fantastic block to deny him again before Sass-Davies produced a last ditch block tackle to deny him again.
The home side’s energy levels were a sight to behold and Crewe were holding on to not concede so soon in the second half. Artell had seen enough and withdrew Gomes for Finney.
The ball continued to arrive in our box and we had to stand up and be counted. On the break, we threatened to take advantage of some good positions but that final ball was just sadly lacking. A more encouraging move on 65 minutes, saw Finney catch a half volley brilliantly after good work from Adebisi and Porter. His great effort forced Tzanev into a smart save.
Palmer was still after a hat-trick and he was foiled once again by a fine block from Thomas after Paul Osew had put the burners on to find him. Moments later, Rudoni was slipped in behind the Alex backline and he forced Richards into a really good save.
On 74 minutes, Crewe made a double change with Thomas and Murphy making way for Callum McFazdean and Regan Griffiths. The Dons also made a change of their own with Osew off for Henry Lawrence.
Crewe were growing in confidence and wanted to make a game of it as their energy levels began to dip.
Two minutes later, Long lifted a pass over the Wimbledon defence to try and release Kashket in behind but he was just crowded out by Sam Csoka. Finney also shot over from the edge of the box.
With his own night complete, Palmer was replaced on 77 minutes by Aaron Pressley. Sass-Davies was booked a minute later for a foul but the referee should have played an advantage to the home side, who had an overload on our left hand side if he allowed play to continue.
A Crewe move was also frustratingly cut short after Heneghan tripped Long. Again, the referee should have played an advantage.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes, an Alex goal at that stage could have made it a nervy finish and Zac Williams threw himself at a corner but couldn’t keep his header down enough to perhaps set up a possible grandstand finish.
McCormick, who also had a product night for the Dons was replaced for George Marsh. With six minutes remaining, Kashket produced a great bit of skill to chase his own ball over the top and race into the box. He didn’t take it upon himself to shoot with his weaker foot and Heneghan was able to recover.
Crewe’s resolve did see us net another with a minute left on the clock. Long turned provider after being found by Griffiths out on the left hand side and his low cross was turned home from close range by Porter. Six minutes of injury time gave us more encouragement.
Kashket looked like he did in the first minute, racing around and trying to make something happen in stoppage time. He won a corner and from that Long headed Lowery’s header clear of the crossbar.
With Crewe desperate to get going and attack, Assal was booked for standing on a McFazdean free-kick and with six minutes to play, Crewe were hoping for that one genuine chance to fall to us.
Moments later after clashing with Williams, Assal was shown a straight red card after going with his head to the Crewe youngster. Williams was also booked in the flash point.
Crewe loaded the box in a desperate attempt to force a dramatic equaliser but Wimbledon stood firm and that chance never came.