Wonderful strike from Long wiped out by Fleetwood subs in second half
Fleetwood Town’s second half substitutes, Ellis Harrison and Anthony Pilkington, turned this ‘six-pointer’ on its head to leave Crewe Alexandra’s chances of remaining in the division hanging by the thinnest of threads. They entered the fray at 1-1 and both scored to end Fleetwood’s run of 13 games without a win and enhance their own chances of remaining in League One very much alive.
Crewe’s 3-1 home defeat to Stephen Crainey’s side leaves us 12 points adrift of safety and with six games remaining it looks all but over.
It looked like game on when Chris Long equalised with virtually the final kick of the first half to cancel out Harvey Macadam’s headed opener after 18 minutes. Crewe came out at the start of the second half looking the more likely side to go on and claim the points, but credit to Fleetwood who rode that storm and went on to create the better of the chances. Crewe had Richards to thank for saving two one-on-ones with Pilkington and Harrison should really have scored with his first touch, stirring his shot wide.
Although Crewe kept going and had chances of our own with Oli Finney and Chris Porter going close with headers, we didn’t respond enough in the final 20 minutes to get back into the game.
Scott Kashket returned from his long injury lay-off to start his first senior game since late November.
The former Leyton Orient and Wycombe man has suffered with an ankle injury sustained away at Ipswich Town, but came through a scheduled 38 minutes at Stockport in the Cheshire Senior Cup in mid-week. Kashket operated at left wing-back.
Chris Porter regained his starting place in place of Bassala Sambou, who dropped back down to the substitutes’ bench. Porter partnered the in-form Chris Long in the front two.
It was a cagey start to the game with both teams trying to get the ball down and settle into the game. Crewe shaded the positivity in the early exchanges though with the lively Chris Long having a cross cut out by Callum Camps and Oli Finney having a dipping cross tipped over by an anxious Alex Cairns.
After those early signs of promise inside the Fleetwood half of the pitch, Crewe began to concede too many needless free-kick and didn’t retain possession up the pitch as well as we had been doing. The ball began to come back too regularly and Fleetwood started to get joy with crosses entering our box.
In the 18th minute that growing tactic paid off with the giant Harvey Macadam rising highest to convert Harrison Biggins’ centre. Crewe were not close enough to cut the cross nor to oppose the Fleetwood forward as he guided his firm header past a helpless David Richards for the opening goal of the afternoon.
Fleetwood, who had come into today’s game on run of 13 games without a win grew in confidence thanks to the advantage and they continued to work hard to close us down and impose their crosses on us.
Long continued to be a problem for the Fleetwood back line with his eagerness to run in behind. His low cross was hooked clear by Toto Nsiala. Just after the half an hour mark, a lively Ainley found Porter and after he managed to shift the ball out of his feet, he couldn’t quite get his foot around it and Alex Cairns got his angles right to push it behind for a corner.
As Crewe pressed trying to find that equaliser, a Lowery free-kick clipped the top of the wall and from the resultant corner, Porter was unfortunate that his header was just wide of the far post. It was a chance for a player of that calibre in the air.
Then after Murphy pinched possession his instant pass into Long allowed him to race at Tom Clarke, but after being forced a touch wide, his drilled shot was saved again by a well placed Cairns.
Long was our main threat with his eagerness to keep going and go directly for the opposition goal and it finally paid off with the final shot of the half.
Long showed great skill with both feet to give him the necessary room to drive home from just over 20 yards out. It was a wonderfully struck shot that gave Cairns no chance of stopping it. Crewe had battled away to go in at the interval on level terms.
The equalising goal gave Crewe a lift and we came out in the second half determined to go on and claim the three points. Crewe were on the front foot and pressing Fleetwood back into retreat. Within the first 55 seconds of the restart, Finney should have headed us in front after Lowery had dug out a cross but his header cleared the crossbar and it was chance gone.
Murphy, who tried to lead by example, fired a deflected shot into the gloves of Cairns and Long shot wastefully wide after another decent move involving Ainley and Kashket.
Fleetwood were struggling to make inroads into the Crewe half and a double change just before the hour mark changed the complexion of the game. Harrison and Pilkington came on to win the game.
A loose header from Johnson presented Biggins with an opportunity to shoot but he cleared the bar with his effort. It was wasted and both teams were guilty of making them.
Zac Williams headed over from a deep cross before Harrison had a great chance to score with his first touch. He was presented with a fantastic chance in front of goal but his side-footed effort cleared Richard’s right hand post. He should have reinstated Fleetwood’s lead.
A forceful run forward from Johnson gave Porter a chance to turn and shoot but his effort was rather tame and collected by Cairns with relative comfort.
The visitors retook the lead on 64 minutes and Crewe will be annoyed by the space given to Pilkington as he raced into space to flick a header unopposed past Richards. It was far too easy afer Camps had sent in the cross.
Crewe had to dig deep again and a double change instantly took place with Sambou and O’Riordan replacing Kashket and Williams.
Chasing the game, Crewe kept going but we were leaving too many openings at the back and Pilkington was denied by the rushing Richards before they put the result beyond doubt on 73 minutes.
There should have been a foul on Johnson as the ball was played up to the edge of the Crewe box as Pilkington hunted him down, but none was forthcoming and after Richards saved Pilkington’s low shot, Harrison’s outstretched leg got their first and it had enough on it to cross the line as Richards scrambled back. It was a horrible, avoidable goal to concede and gave Crewe two goals to chase in the closing stages.
Harper replaced the hard working Murphy and if Ainley’s fantastic effort had not been pushed over the bar by the Fleetwood stopper, we may have rallied in the final stages to salvage a point, but on the other hand we had Richards to thank for denying Pilkington late on in another one-on-one situation after he had been allowed to turn far too easily inside the box.
Fleetwood completed a league double to leave Crewe needing a miracle to escape the drop into League Two.