Second half turnaround sees Crewe fightback to end run of eight without a win.
Alex Morris’ first game in transitory charge of the club saw Crewe Alexandra end a run of eight successive defeats in League One in emphatic style.
After trailing to a Sam Cosgrove wonder strike at half-time, a resounding second half performance from the Railwaymen saw Mikael Mandron, Chris Long and late substitute Bassala Sambou all on the target to seal a memorable comeback.
It was an enthralling encounter and Crewe thoroughly deserved the victory in front of buzzing Mornflake Stadium. The result leaves AFC Wimbledon deep in relegation trouble with three to go.
With Crewe’s fate in the division decided last week with a dismal 2-0 defeat at Doncaster Rovers, Morris and his backroom staff achieved the required response from the players out on the training ground. They managed to transfer that work into the matchday scenario.
Interim manager Alex Morris was able to welcome back Zac Williams at left-back after the youngster was a late withdrawal at Doncaster. Williams felt unwell in the warm-up and that handed Lewis Billington a debut in what proved to be Artell’s final match in charge.
The other change saw Scott Kashket replace Bassala Sambou in the Crewe attack that also included Mikael Mandron and Christopher Long. Sambou started on the substitutes’ bench that also included club captain Luke Murphy and youngsters Connor O’Riordan and Billington.
With AFC Wimbledon needing the three points to keep their own hopes of survival alive, it was the expected frenetic start to the game. The visitors were pressing early and Crewe needed to settle down and start to dictate the play more. Progression into the Wimbledon final third saw Ben Heneghan head a cross from Tom Lowery away before Callum Ainley had a shot blocked on the edge of the box.
At the end, the towering Sam Cosgrove found the supportive right-back, Henry Lawrence, but Offord rushed out to block his effort from just inside the Crewe box. It was an evenly contested affair before the visitors took the lead after 19 minutes.
AFC Wimbledon had been hunting playmaker, Lowery, in numbers and after they pinched possession from him, the ball was played to Cosgrove and the masked striker arrowed his shot into the top of Dave Richards’ top corner. It was a wonderful strike from the Wimbledon number 9 and Richards had absolutely no chance.
That injected some life into Wimbledon’s performance and under Mark Bowen, you can see how organised and well drilled to make playing through the lines difficult. A forceful run from Long saw him drift past a couple of bodies before his reverse pass into Mandron would have seen the Frenchman through on goal, but he couldn’t quite adjust his feet to take it fully in his stride and the chance was lost.
Moments later, a tempting cross from Williams only needed a touch at the far post but Lee Brown did superbly to dive and divert it behind for a Crewe corner. From the set-piece, Harper literally threw at it but it was difficult to direct it under pressure. The busy Long also flashed a shot wide from 25 yards after being found by Mandron’s knockdown.
There was a stoppage in play when referee Webb collided with Tom Lowery in the centre of the pitch but after treatment he was able to continue. After play resumed, Jack Rudoni raced through the centre of the Crewe defence too easily but he shot tamely at Richards when you would have expected better from a player of his calibre.
Harper’s low drive hit the heal of his own player, in Kashket before he made way a minute before the break, He has taken a hefty whack on his ankle and the switch was made before the interval with Oli Finney chosen. Ainley moved to the wider role with Finney adopting one of the higher midfield positions.
Ainley’s first involvement from the wing saw him feed the overlapping Lundstram and his low cross was collected by keeper Nik Tzanev.
The half ended with another good chance for the visitors with Ayoub Assal racing through and after keeping his composure he drifted past as couple of Crewe defenders before finding Cosgrove but he would be denied a second goal of the afternoon following a fantastic save from Richards.
Richards made a crucial save at the beginning of the second half to deny substitute Egil Kaja just minutes after he replaced Assal. Crewe had hung in there not to go further behind and that grit and determined would swing the game back in our favour.
Crewe’s first chance of the second half saw Ainley and Finney combine down the right flank and after Finney’s effort was blocked, both Mandron and Long had efforts blocked.
Morris’ men were certainly on the front foot but needed a touch of luck to draw level on the hour mark. There didn’t appear to be any danger when Cosgrove passed a blind back pass towards his own goalkeeper without realising that Mandron was standing in between. Mandron couldn’t believe his luck, took it beyond Tzanev and slotted home the equaliser.
Two minutes later, Crewe were ahead. The referee played a fantastic advantage when Mandron was felled in the build up and that allowed Lowery to release Long and for him to find Finney inside the box and his shot smacked the crossbar.
It looked like the chance was gone but the supportive Lowery reacted superbly to return the ball back to Long in the second phase and he coolly made it 2-1 with a low finish. It was a dramatic turnaround and for a few minutes, Wimbledon were completely shell shocked.
They made a change with Derick Osei Yaw replacing Luke McCormick and they began to load our box. Offord and Sass-Davies stood firm and Williams must have given Long a run for the Man-of-the-Match award. One breathtaking run from his own half that resulted in him taking into the Wimbledon box was first class and deserved better.
Long teed up Harper who dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box and Crewe’s pressing and work ethic was terrific. It received warm appreciated from the supporters.
Sass-Davies made a last ditch tackle on Cosgrove before he had to undergo a blood stoppage after receiving a whack in the face.
Following a slip from Lowery in the centre of the pitch, the ball was played out for Cosgrove and it needed Offord to make a superb interception after Richards had got down to save before Yaw helped himself to a tap in at the far post. It was a tremendous challenge to perserve our lead going into the later stages of a eventful game.
Zac Williams soon did likewise to deny Kaja at the far post and Harper did superbly to use his body to shield another late chance.
Crewe stood firm, defended superbly and then broke away in the final minutes of stoppage time to seal the points. Lowey pinched possession close to our own box to set us on the way. Mandron raced through and unselfishly rolled the ball across to Sambou. His initial shot was saved by Tzanev, but on the rebound he kept his composure to guide home his second goal for the club and the roof came off the Mornflake Stadium.