The Alex well beaten at the Pirelli Stadium on New Years' Day
Crewe Alexandra started 2022 with a 4-1 defeat at Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium with the Alex defence struggling to contain a powerful and forceful Burton side. The scoreline didn't reflect the fact that we didn't get the rub of the green with two key moments for two of those goals with the game evenly poised.
Tom Lowery scored a stunning equaliser on 19 minutes, firing past our former goalkeeper Ben Garratt from almost 25 yards out but the game ran away from the Alex following two hotly disputed goals. The Alex felt a throw-in should have gone in our favour but after making that wrong call, we didn’t deal with a long throw-in from Tom Hamer and another of our former player’s John Brayford finished after a messy contest in front of Dave Richards.
Crewe were left aggrieved again when a free-kick should have been given for a late tackle on Callum Ainley after he had played a ball forward to find Finney but again the officials missed it and Kane Hemmings punished us in the next phase of play by scoring a spectacular third goal.
Trailing 3-1 at the break, Crewe needed that next goal to make a contest of it and we should have got it when Chris Porter played Mikael Mandron through on goal with just over 20 minutes left but Garratt saved in an one-on-one situation.
There were chances at both ends, with Porter also heading over from close range for Crewe but we couldn’t find that passage back into the game and the Burton substitute Daniel Jebbison finished it off with a calm finish in stoppage time.
David Artell was forced into one change for the short trip to Burton. Left back, Rio Adebisi, was ruled out with a foot injury, so Kayne Ramsay earned his first league start since October.
The on-loan Southampton defender has only recently returned from injury himself and impressed when replacing Adebisi at Morecambe on Wednesday evening. Ramsay adopted his more familiar role on the right hand side, with the versatile Callum Ainley switching to the left wing-back role.
The absence of Adebisi meant an appearance on the bench for youngster Joel Tabiner. Terell Thomas also returned from illness to replace young centre-half, Connor O’Riordan, in the Alex squad of 18.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Burton Albion side included the former Crewe Alexandra players, goalkeeper Ben Garratt and their captain John Brayford.
Before kick-off there was a minute of remembrance for all those who have sadly lost their lives over the past 12 months.
It was a frenetic start to the proceedings with the ball more in the air than on the grass in the opening minutes. It was very scrappy early on with both sets of players trying to win their individual battles, mostly with their heads.
Burton’s first opportunity to utilise Tom Hamer’s long throw came after four minutes. The initial ball into our box was cleared to the edge of the box by the former Brewer, Luke Murphy, but was kept alive by the head of Deji Oshilaja and in turn Ryan Leak turned his headed wide.
Two minutes later, the home side took the lead. The opening stemmed after Crewe had actually enjoyed their best spell of possession inside the Burton half of the pitch but after our passage of good passing broke down, a longer pass from Cameron Borthwick-Jackson exposed our right hand side to release Harry Chapman.
The on-loan forward from Blackburn still had a lot to do, but he boldly went at the Alex defence, raced across the box before dispatching it past Richards before Billy Sass-Davies could poke the ball away from his boot. It was a fine solo run from the Burton man, but such a disappointing way to concede because we had enough bodies to halt the danger.
Crewe tried to respond, but after pulling to the back post, Chris Porter couldn’t direct his header goalwards and Ainley’s follow up cross only hit a yellow shirt inside a crowded box. Another long throw from Hamer saw Charlie Larkin anticipate the bounce of the ball better and he headed over.
On 16 minutes, Crewe conjured up a genuine chance after some more good football. Murphy clipped a delightful ball in behind for Ramsay to race into and he found the supportive Lowery. His skill and balance took him to the by-line and his dangerous pull-back just evaded a number of red shirts and Ainley’s return cross was cleared away. It was much better from the Railwaymen.
Crewe hit back on 19 minutes thanks to a stunning strike from Lowery. Crewe had a simple throw in out on the left. Zac Williams found Ainley with it and his determination saw him head towards the Burton goal. It became a bit scrappy with both Ainley and Porter battling for possession. The loose ball drifted over to Lowery and he took a touch, before unleashing an unstoppable drive from 25 yards that flashed past Garratt.
Crewe were level for just five minutes after Burton retook the lead in controversial fashion. Hamer committed a foul throw by lifting his back foot up, but play was allowed to continue and then the assistant referee incorrectly awarded them another throw further up the pitch.
In truth, he didn’t have a clue which way to award it and after a period of real indecision, flagged in favour of the home team. Crewe were outraged by a decision that should have been straight forward enough and that anger would only increase when Hamer’s high throw caused trouble again and Brayford tucked it home at the far post. Murphy and Mandron led the protests but the goal stood.
Crewe were handed a bad hand and had to overcome that set-back and quickly. Richards was called upon to save well from Kane Hemmings and then a mix-up nearly saw a clearance rebound into our own net.
The Alex had to stand up to the onslaught of high balls and throw-ins landing in our box from Hamer and start to play our football again. Ainley was floored as he released Finney in the final third but with no advantage it should have been a Crewe free-kick. Amazingly, the referee nor fourth official gave it! The Crewe bench were absolutely incensed by it all and again, barely seconds later we conceded to go 3-1 down on 33 minutes.
Kane Hemmings produced a stunning strike to send a dipping shot into Richards’ far top left hand corner. It was a terrific strike to cement the home side’s advantage in the game, but there was no disguising the fact that Crewe felt hard done-by the decisions in the build up to both those goals.
Crewe had to settle and not be affected by the injustice in key moments. On a counter attack led by Jacob Maddox, Crewe were thankful for the assistant’s flag ruling Hamer offside before his low cross was eventually turned in. It looked tight.
In an attempt to get back into the game, Lowery, who continued to be busy for Crewe, fed Ainley but his low shot was blocked. Porter’s pass into the supportive Lowery nearly saw the midfielder get a shot off but he was halted at the death by a good challenge in front of Garratt.
The next goal in the second half was going to be vital. A second for Crewe would give us that lifeline in the game, a fourth for Burton and it was really damage limitation time.
Hemmings and Chapman were a constant handful though and they combined early on in the second half to try and play in the supportive Hamer but Richards was alert to the danger and came out to smother it out for a corner. Williams also did well to force Hemmings to shot wide from a good position.
Ramsay soon drifted past Borthwick-Jackson with relative ease but he curled his shot over. Porter looped a header goalwards that Garratt did well to collect from underneath his crossbar.
A minute later, Borthwick-Jackson fired in a shot from the edge of the Crewe box after another throw from Hamer fell to him. Richards was right behind it to make a comfortable save. That would be his last contribution as he was replaced by Tom O’Connor.
On 67 minutes, Crewe created that real chance to get back into the game. Lowery found Porter and he instantly turned it on for Mandron to go through on goal. The Frenchman looked to have a heavy touch as he made it towards the Burton goal and that gave Garratt the opportunity to come out and deny him. It was a chance lost.
On 69 minutes, Robertson replaced Ainley with the on-loan Celtic youngster operating in that left wing-back role.
Chapman shot low at Richards after another swift Burton counter-attack and although trailing, there were chances at both ends to make it an interesting last 20 minutes. The hard working Chapman came off for Daniel Jebbison to offer more fresh legs. Jebbison’s first involvement resulted in Offord being booked for pulling him back. He was soon joined in the book by Finney for a foul.
With 8 minutes remaining young Tabiner replaced Murphy to mark his league debut.
Porter stole in to meet a great cross from Robertson but he could quite keep it down to trouble Garratt before Hemmings had a couple of chances that if he had converted would have seen him leave with the matchball once again! Unusually for him he fired over and wide.
Richards was also called upon to make a terrific late save to deny substitute Jebbison in a one-on-one situation but he was helpless when the same player raced clear in stoppage time to slide it past him for 4-1.