Crewe suffer Boxing Day defeat as County head home twice in the second half at Edgeley Park
Crewe Alexandra’s first return to Edgeley Park since April 2011 ended in a disappointing 2-0 defeat in our first Cheshire derby of the campaign. Crewe had actually worked diligently to contain Stockport County in the first half with chances few and far between for both sides, but with Dave Challinor’s side evidently upping a gear in the second half, the Railwaymen couldn’t remain resolute. The pressure finally told.
Paddy Madden headed in from close range on 55 minutes after being picked out superbly by the excellent Stockport winger, Ryan Rydel and Will Collar made sure of a fairly comfortably three points by heading home from a corner 13 minutes later. County conjured up over 20 plus shots on the Crewe goal with the Alex struggling to muster a real effort on target over the 90 minutes. Our best effort saw Eli King’s corner clip the crossbar but in reality, the Railwaymen did not force Stockport’s Ben Hinchliffe into too many meaningful saves.
As local derby encounters go, it wasn’t a particularly feisty affair either with just Conor Thomas booked for a foul on Will Collar and it only really highlighted Crewe’s need for more attacking options to arrive in January with Chris Long and Courtney Baker-Richardson ruled out through long-term injury.
Lee Bell was forced into two changes in his defence with right-back, Kelvin Mellor, ruled out with injury and arguably the club’s best performer of 2022, Luke Offord, serving an untimely suspension after collating his fifth caution of the campaign against Newport County at the beginning of the month.
Postponed matches against Leyton Orient and Walsall in the build up to Christmas resulted in Offord’s one-match suspension carrying over to the Boxing Day fixture. The centre-half’s place went to Welshman Zac Williams, with Rod McDonald captaining the side. The versatile Rio Adebisi deputised on the right hand side with Tariq Uwakwe on the left.
That meant a recall in midfield for Eli King and youngster Joel Tabiner in place of the on-loan, Lachlan Brook. Brook had scored the club’s last goal in spectacular fashion to open the scoring against Newport, 24 days ago, but he began on the bench at Stockport.
Crewe made a confident start to this 152nd meeting between the two Cheshire sides and enjoyed their fair share of possession in the early minutes, but it would be the home side conjuring up the first genuine chance of derby day.
In only the 5th minute, Irishman, Paddy Madden glided past the ineffective challenges of Thomas and McDonald inside the Crewe penalty area to force Arthur Okonkwo into a smart save down to his left.
In a quick response, Crewe forced a corner from the left hand side but King’s deep delivery was purposefully headed clear by Fraser Horsfall.
Stockport were forced into an early change after full-back, Macauley Southam-Hales suffered what appeared to be an injury to the top of his ankle and had to be replaced by the Blackburn loanee James Brown. It set the tone for a stop/start first half and that suited Crewe who continued to frustrate the sell-out home crowd.
The busier of the two goalkeepers, Okonkwo, made another save-he-should-make when getting down accordingly to deny winger Ryan Rydel. Stockport’s ploy to attack Crewe’s right hand side, then saw a longer ball superbly touched into the path of Rydel by Myles Hippolyte and his shot was adjudged to have taken a deflection. It was certainly debatable.
Justice was seemingly done when from the resultant corner, Madden’s low drive at the far post was blocked by Charlie Colkett and then the assistant’s flag ended Stockport’s hopes of opening the scoring.
Just before the 20 minute mark, Colkett produced some sublime skill to free himself some space and release a cross field pass out to Tabiner. The youngster’s searching cross just evaded the touch of Daniel Agyei. He couldn’t quite get the ball under his spell and he would endure a frustrating afternoon.
Crewe continued to be compact in their shape and limit the home side to half chances. When we needed him to, the diligent work of Bassala Sambou saw the visitors quickly revert to a defensive 4-5-1 formation and make it difficult for The Hatters to break through. The tactic was working accordingly.
From the edge of the Crewe penalty area, Ryan Croasdale had a shot deflected behind by Adebisi and then Hippolyte fired wide of the target when he perhaps should have done better after getting enough over his shot.
Both sides struggled for momentum and fluency in a fairly even first period, but Crewe’s aim of subduing the home crowd had worked a treat. There were six minutes of stoppage time after King and Croasdale collided heads with the Stockport man needing treatment for a cut. He would be bandaged up for the second half.
Crewe defended their penalty area really well in the closing minutes of the first half and would be pleased to get in at the break goalless, although not offering too much of a threat in the final third.
Stockport quickly attempted to inject more intensity and intent into their play at the beginning of the second half. They loaded our box with some early crosses before danger man Rydel saw his well struck effort deflected onto the foot of the post by the covering lunge of Adebisi.
Moments later, Collar headed tamely down at the well placed Okonkwo when he should had done better from Kyle Wootton’s header back across a crowded penalty area.
With Crewe struggling to get a foothold on the proceedings, Thomas was booked for a foul on Collar and the ball was spending more time in our half of the pitch with their goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe often hitting it longer.
Crewe’s brave resolve in the game was finally broken 10 minutes into the second half. The County keeper hit another searching ball towards Rydel and after controlling it with a deft touch; he took on Tabiner to create an easy chance for captain Madden. He held off Tabiner and clipped a deft ball over the towering Okonkwo and Madden nodded home from virtually on the goal line. It was his 8th goal in 11 games.
The shackles were truly off for Stockport and Wootoon fired over the crossbar. Crewe had to regroup and had to readjust as well at the back after losing Zac Williams through injury. The young Welshman was forced off after appearing to land uncomfortably in making a back pass. Williams looked to aggravate his ankle when under pressure from Madden and it was another blow for Bell to contend with.
With Bell short of numbers in defensive numbers on his bench, Brook came on for the unfortunate Williams and Thomas stepped back into a defensive role.
With the lead, Stockport looked a totally different side in the second half and Wootoon and Collar both went close before a well struck corner from Eli King bounced off the Stockport crossbar. The on-loan Cardiff youngster certainly went for it, trying to catch Hinchliffe slightly off his line.
At 1-0 there was a chance of something, but moments later, Stockport doubled their advantage on 68 minutes. It was so straight forward too with Collar pulling off King to head home Rydel’s corner. It was such a disappointing way to concede and with our chances few and far between, it was an almost impossible task in the final 20 minutes to salvage something.
Stockport boss Dave Challinor certainly thought it was job done as he made a triple substitution on 72 minutes with our former midfielder, Antoni Sarcevic, Callum Camps and Ollie Crankshaw replacing their two scorers and arguably Man-of-the-Match, Rydal.
Agyei and Sambou continued to operate on scraps really and they were well marshalled by the physical presence of Akil Wright over the course of the game. In an attempt to offer them some extra support, Connor Evans replaced King with a little over seven minutes remaining.
Attacking the 1,055 away fans at the Railway End of the stadium, Crewe needed a lifeline to possibly make it a nervy ending for our Cheshire rivals, but we had struggled to muster any real effort of merit on the Stockport goal.
Sarcevic would have loved another goal against his former club, but a late surge saw his shot blocked and Croasdale was wayward with the follow up. Wootton had a glorious chance to make it 3-0 but he failed to generate any real power to really trouble Okonkwo.
In stoppage time, a tiring Crewe then allowed Sarcevic to retain possession in our box far too easily but his cheeky chip was easily dealt with. The closing stages was more about Stockport looking to add a third goal from their 20 plus efforts on our goal rather than Crewe making any grandstand finish and the away fans had emptied rapidly before the final whistle came.