Pilgrims romp to victory at Crewe with Ryan Hardie scoring a second half hat-trick after Chris Long had given us a first half lead.
Three goals within the first 11 minutes of the second half abruptly ended Crewe Alexandra hopes of getting anything out of the game against an impressive Plymouth Argyle side. Steven Schumacher’s side came out in the second half and completely transformed the game and a shell-shocked Crewe couldn’t respond.
Crewe had led 1-0 at the break thanks to Chris Long’s poachers finish, but it would be the Pilgrims number 9, Ryan Hardie, grabbing all the headlines with a clinical hat-trick. Niall Ennis helped himself to a goal on the night with the simplest of nod-ins after Will Jaaskelainen had lost his bearings after making a save from Danny Mayor.
Crewe’s mistakes were lethally punished and in truth it could have been more. Jaaskelainen saved a penalty from Adam Randell and the Pilgrims had other chances to add to the four they did score.
Rekeem Harper made his debut for the Railwaymen and fellow new signings, Ryan Alebiosu, Dan Agyei, Bassala Sambou and Tariq Ukakwe all started for the visit of Steven Schumacher’s Plymouth Argyle.
Crewe operated a 4-3-3 formation with Long as the central striker, flanked by Sambou and Agyei.
The former Crewe Alexandra player Conor Grant started on the substitutes’ bench for Plymouth.
Crewe were quick out of the blocks and Ukakwe was keen to get forward and provide crosses from the left flank. He forced Michael Cooper to claw one dangerous looking cross out and Alebiosu was just as lively on the other side.
The high energy levels continued from a vibrant Alex and Dan Scarr was booked for hauling Agyei down as he threatened to unleash from distance.
Against the run of play, Ryan Law slipped as he shot into the side netting and Panutche Camara showed great feet to get away from the Alex midfield before Ryan Broom’s cross was cut out.
Crewe’s early dominance paid off inside the first 15 minutes. After a good period of possession, Agyei came off the by line and his low drive wasn’t held by the grounded Cooper and Long was there to poach himself a tap in. The goalkeeper should have done better with the initial shot but Long took the chance and was rewarded with the opening goal of the night.
Plymouth had the perfect opportunity to equalise just six minutes later when the tricky, Danny Mayor was caught by Offord after he had crossed from the by-line. The referee must have penalised him for a late challenge and pointed to the spot, much to the annoyance of the Alex players and staff. Adam Randell stepped up but was denied superbly by Will Jaaskelainen. He pushed it away to keep Crewe ahead.
Crewe continued to look much brighter in attack and the hard work was paying off with us hurrying Plymouth into mistakes in possession. The tempo was excellent but on the half an hour mark, we had another escape when the impressive Camara hit the crossbar after robbing possession from Offord. It was a tremendous effort.
The game was littered with fouls and that broke up Crewe’s rhythm for a period, as Plymouth began to enjoy their best spell.
Murphy shot wide for Crewe from the edge of the box before there was a controversial moment when the already booked Scarr seemed to kick out at the grounded Sambou. He escaped a second yellow card if the referee had seen it.
With an entertaining half drawing to a close, Plymouth must have thought they had equalised when Ryan Hardie rounded Jaaskelainen and Niall Ennis looked destined to pass into an empty net but the recovering Sass-Davies did brilliantly to get something on his shot and deflect it over the crossbar to preserve our lead going in at the interval.
Plymouth Argyle were level inside three minutes of the second half when Offord didn’t deal well enough with Law’s cross reaching Hardie and he helped himself to an equaliser at the far post. All that good work in the first half was undone and now Plymouth sensed blood. They came out really determined to turn this game around.
It was 2-1, seven minutes later and it was another defensive error. Randell fired in a shot from 25 yards and Jaaskelainen after making a one handded save, the ball span up into the air and as it dropped it bounced past the Crewe goalkeeper and a grateful Niall Ennis nodded into the empty net. He couldn't believe his luck.
A minute later, it was game over as a contest. Mayor was the creator again, finding Hardie and he fired superbly into the bottom corner for his second of the night. The game had slipped away from us inside 11 minutes.
That would be Mayor’s last contribution and he was replaced by Joe Edwards.
Murphy tried to keep going, firing wide from 25 yards and then over minutes later. Lowery was his industrious self, kept going and showed a real fighting spirit. He must have been a contender for our best performer on a disappointing night.
A cross from full-back, Ukakwe nearly found the head of the diminutive midfielder as he made his way into the opposition box.
Hardie was booked for a foul on Offord and Sass-Davies made a decisive block on Hardie to prevent him his hat-trick earlier than we would actually get it. It was damage limitation time.
On 72 minutes, the fresh legs of Griffiths and Ainley were introduced for Murphy and Harper and there was also a late outing for Connor Salisbury for Sambou. Ainley nearly pulled one back with his first touch but he couldn’t quite keep his lob over Cooper low enough and it cleared the bar.
The stage was set late on for Hardie to complete his hat-trick and he duly obliged with a real tidy finish on 85 minutes. He was slipped in by sub Garrick and he calmly lifted it over the onrushing Jaaskelainen. It was a clinical finish and he duly received a standing ovation from the away support as he was replaced by Luke Jephcott.
His replacement had a chance to get his name on the scoresheet as well after being slipped in by Camara but credit to Alebiosu for making a splendid late ditch tackle. Ryan Broom also fired over the top of the crossbar after a fantastic solo run.
Crewe didn’t create too many chances second half and Long fired hide and wide late on which summed up a disappointing night for the Alex.