Alex slip to disappointing defeat to fellow strugglers after failing to find equaliser in dominant second half following rather soft penalty award in the first.
Crewe Alexandra came away from the Priestfield Stadium with nothing to show for their efforts in this battle at the bottom. The game was decided by a soft penalty award after Luke Offord was adjudged to have handled Stuart O’Keefe’s 15th minute shot. Daniel Lloyd kept his cool to send the recalled Will Jaaskelainen the wrong way.
Crewe who had to replace the ill and injured, Chris Long and Mikael Mandron, in the first half came out with a lot more attacking intent in a second half of dominance. New signings, Tariq Uwakwe and Daniel Agyei both tested Aaron Chapman in the Gillingham goal with good efforts and Chris Porter blasted over late on as Crewe looked to make our pressure count.
Gillingham had to win ugly and they could have made it a lot more comfortable, only for Vadaine Oliver’s shot to hit the post and spin out the other side in the opening minutes of the second half.
Crewe certainly deserved something from the game after an encouraging second half performance but that equaliser never arrived and Neil Harris, in his first game as the newly appointed Gills boss oversaw a first win in 17 games for the club. The Gills certainly deserve credit for their spirt and everyone at Crewe hopes Mustapha Carayol is okay after what looked a serious head injury at the end of the first half.
The 1-0 defeat for Crewe sees Gillingham tie up on 22 points in the bottom four and with AFC Wimbledon drawing, the gap moves to eight points.
It was a busy last few days of the January transfer market for David Artell with five new faces coming into the club. Three of those, Ryan Alebiosu, Tariq Uwakwe and Daniel Agyei, were all handed their Crewe Alexandra debuts at the Priestfield Stadium.
Fellow newcomer, Bassala Sambou, made his bow for the Railwaymen when replacing Chris Porter at the weekend began on the bench again alongside the man he replaced in the defeat to Rotherham United. Other major coup, midfielder, Rekeem Harper wasn’t named in the squad of 18 after completing his loan move from Ipswich Town.
Will Jaaskelainen replaced Dave Richards in the Crewe goal and Mikael Mandron reverted back to a forward role with Artell switching back to 4-3-3 to face the Gills. Connor O’Riordan and Travis Johnson both dropped to the bench as Artell shuffled his defensive pack.
Gillingham’s newly appointed manager, Neil Harris, named the former Crewe striker, Vadaine Oliver, on his substitutes’ bench.
There was a false start to the proceedings as Gilingham’s over eagerness at the kick off resulted in a restart.
Crewe certainly had a case for a penalty in the openig minute when there was a strong appeal for a penalty for handball when the ball was swung in early into the Gillingham box but that early on, referee Darren Drysdale waved away those protests. He wouldn't whena less obvious handball would occur 15 minutes later!
The home side were presented with the first opportunity after only two minutes. Alebiosu did well initially to halt Lloyd in his tracks down the Crewe right hand side, but moments later, he had possession pinched from him by Mustapha Carayol inside the penalty area and Crewe had Jaaskelainen to thank for pushing away Lloyd’s shot.
With Gillingham trying to get on the front foot, an off balanced, Olly Lee shot wide from the edge of the box.
Uwakwe showed some great early touches and was eager to burst forward whenever the opportunity arose. Crewe’s best early move saw Uwakwe force a corner off the head of Conor Materson.
On 15 minutes, a searching ball from Lee released Carayol and his low shot just cleared the far post after taking a slight nick off the boot of the covering Sass-Davies. In the second phase of play from the set-piece, the ball was kept alive on the left hand side and after Carayol teed up O’Keefe, his shot was adjudged to have struck the arm of Luke Offord as his captain threw himself at the shot.
How he was supposed to have got his arm out of the way as he slid is certainly debatable, but the referee pointed to the spot, much to the annoyance of the Crewe captain and Offord who had stood beside him as a defensive shield when the shot came in. Following the protests, Lloyd kept his composure to put our Icelandic goalkeeper the wrong way for the opener.
Gillingham’s forwards were certainly getting more joy than ours and from another cross coming in from the right wing; Uwakwe did enough to put Robbie McKenzie off his stride coming in at the far post.
Uwakwe was involved again in an attacking sense and he invited Tom Lowery to shoot from distance but he couldn’t keep his shot under the crossbar. On 25 minutes, following an untidy clearance from a corner, Sass-Davies had a low shot blocked by the grounded Max Ehmer. In the melee, Mandron took a significant knock and needed a period of treatment from head physio Steve Phillips. He certainly moved gingerly moments later trying to link up with Long.
On 33 minutes, the first change came from Crewe and it wasn’t Mandron, but Chris Long making way after complaining of illness. Sambou replaced him.
Barely 60 seconds later, Lowery bravely blocked a close range effort from O’Keefe as he threatened to make it 2-0. It was a wonderful block tackle from the Alex midfielder to prevent a potential second goal.
Mandron bravely tried to shake off his knock but couldn’t and the former Gills man needed treatment again on the pitch before being replaced by Porter. Crewe had changed two of their three forwards in the opening half.
From a deep free kick, struck by Finney, Offord stole in at the far post but couldn’t direct his header on goal.
The first half surpassed an hour of football after six minutes of stoppage time was increased even further after Carayol was stretched off after Sass-Davies headed the back of his head. All the precautionary measures were taken and Carayol signalled that he was okay as he left the field and was replaced by our former man Oliver.
Crewe had to survive a couple of late corner,s with Saas-Davies doing well with one as it looked to drop invitingly for Jack Tucker.
The Railwaymen came out with an up lift in intent and positivity at the start of the second half. Alebiosu tried his luck with an ambitious effort that cleared the crossbar but it was clear that the Alex were going to attack the Gillingham penalty area with a lot more purpose.
Saying that a route one clearance from the Gills goalkeeper, Aaron Chapman by-passed our midfield and Oliver raced through the middle. He took his shot early, hitting it into floor and must have thought he had scored against his former club when his effort hit the post and looked to spin in, but it spun outwards and went out for a goal kick. It was almighty let-off.
After that scare, Crewe dominated the possession and basically laid siege to the Gillingham goal. Agyei forced Chapman into his first meaningful save, when pushing his low effort behind for a corner on 56 minutes. Porter then couldn’t direct enough power and direction on his header from Alebiosu’s accurate cross coming in from the right. Tucker also did superbly well to get to another cross ahead of the veteran striker.
The Crewe full-backs had licence to get forward and provide ammunition. Uwakwe did brilliantly at a short-corner from Lowery to test Champman again with a dipping effort and Agyei did likewise from a similar position.
With Crewe in the driving seat and pressing looking for that equaliser, it was no surprise that the Gills tried to break up the play and slow things down. Tutonda was booked for time wasting at a throw-in.
Crewe put crosses in, aiming for the head of Porter and Artell made his last change of the evening with Ainley on for Finney with 17 minutes left on the clock.
Another effort this time from the bvusy Lowery took a deflection and looped up and after a scramble Tucker did well to clear their lines. The tireless Gillingham defender did exceptionally well again to head away a Uwakwe cross to the far post just as Offord was about to stick his head on it.
With two minutes remaining, Porter was given a presentable chance after Uwakwe found him with a lower ball into the box. The Alex number 9 didn’t get over his shot enough and sent it high over the crossbar. It was a good chance for the finisher and his frustration at missing the target reflected that.
With time running out, a rare break from the home side saw the Gills substitute Ryan Jackson nearly find Oliver steaming in but Sass-Davies used his body to get something on the shot and take it harmlessly through to Jaaskelainen.
Deep into the six minutes of stoppage time, the lively Agyei tried to conjure up a late equaliser but after cutting in from the by-line he couldn’t keep his shot down.
Despite dominating the lions’ share of the possession in the second half and looking more of a threat in the final third, Crewe couldn’t break a spirited Gillingham side down and Harris’ side won ugly tonight but to be fair it was all about the result in this basement battle.