Smith brace seals Rotherham the points as Robbo sees red for Crewe.
A goal in each half from Rotherham United’s Michael Smith condemned Crewe to a third league game without a win and no goals. Smith headed home a 7th minute opener and then added a killer second goal in the second period from the free-kick that Scott Robertson had conceded in receiving his second yellow card in the space of four minutes. The on-loan Robertson had earlier replaced Travis Johnson at left wing-back, but he found Chiedozie Ogbene too hot to handle.
Crewe’s best spell of the game came towards the end of the first period, when the lively Chris Long tested Josh Vickers on a couple of occasions, but in truth we didn’t use the advantage of the wind in the second half to test the Rotherham goalkeeper often enough. It proved too comfortable for the promotion chasing Millers, especially after Roberston was dimissed.
A busy climax to the week saw four new faces arrive at the club, but only the first of those new recruits, Bassala Sambou, was named in the 18-man squad for the visit of Rotherham United. With no fixture coming up next weekend, David Artell and his staff are sure to utilise that time to integrate the new players during training sessions.
Club captain Luke Murphy returned to the starting XI in place of Scotsman Robertson. With defender Zac Williams ruled out due illness (not Covid related), his fellow scholar, Connor O’Riordan, was handed his League debut. The versatile Travis Johnson and Mikael Mandron fulfilled the wing-back roles as Crewe operated with the 3-5-2 formation once again.
As we discovered in the Papa John’s Trophy tie, Paul Warne has a plethora of talent in his Rotherham squad. He named the former Crewe loanee midfielder, Daniel Barlaser, Shane Ferguson, Will Grigg, Oliver Rathbone and Michael Smith in his strong starting XI.
The game at the Mornflake Stadium kicked off in blustery conditions and it was the visitors who used the impact of the wind to make things difficult for the Alex. Crewe found it tough to get into the Rotherham half of the field and that early pressure told after just 7 minutes.
In an attempt to retain possession, Crewe tried to play out from the back. Sass-Davies was placed under pressure by Rathbone and that allowed Chiedozie Ogbene to pinch the ball back for the Millers. The cross came into the box from Rarmani Edmonds-Green from the Crewe left and Smith beat the oncoming David Richards to head Warne’s side ahead. The Crewe goalkeeper came and didn’t get there and Smith kept his focus on his connection to net his 20th goal of a prolific season.
With the wind in their favour and buoyant from that early goal, Rotherham continued to dominate much of the opening period. Ferguson demonstrated that positivity from midfield when whistling a shot just over the crossbar and the lively Ogbene saw another effort deflected into the gloves of Richards.
The ball kept coming back at Crewe and the conditions made it a scrappy affair from our point of view as we tried to make inroads into the Rotherham half. Crewe were having to remain in the game.
It was so nearly 2-0 just ahead of the 20-minute mark. Ferguson’s wicked corner from the left dipped under Richards’ crossbar and under pressure from Grigg, it looked liked Rotherham would double their lead. Defender Michael Ihiekwe threw himself at it with his head before Smith went close to applying a decisive touch in the melee, but a combination of Porter and then Mandron managed to scramble it clear of danger. It was a let off.
Crewe’s first meaningful attack, saw the excellent Murphy rob Rathbone and find Long. The former Everton and Burnley forward raced towards goal and lashed a powerful shot just over Josh Vickers’ crossbar. It was a lot more positive from the Railwaymen and Long continuously threatened the goal when he could.
Ihiekwe was booked for a forceful challenge on Mandron and he was lucky that one of his feet was placed on the floor when he made the robust tackle or it could have been more of a severe punishment.
Ferguson then slipped Grigg in behind but he over hit his cross from a dangerous area. Travis Johnson was booked for an obvious foul on winger Ogbene and the Crewe full-back seemingly came off worse, as he had to be replaced just a couple of minutes later for Scott Robertson.
The wind and the need to try and play out from the back, made our decision-making tricky at times ad Crewe were determined to get in at the break just the one goal behind.
In the closing five minutes of the half and the five extra of stoppage time, Crewe did enjoy their best spell. Robertson was soon involved in the attacking third but he couldn’t quite find Long with his low cross or better still Porter unmarked at the far post.
Long’s side footed a shot at Vickers after great work on the touchline from his strike partner Porter before he was judged offside at a well stuck free-kick from Offord. Long also looped a late header into the arms of Vickers after Mandron had competed well in the air.
Crewe continued to be competitive and Rotherham were never shy in committing fouls to halt a potential counter attack from us. One such ‘break-up’ foul saw Richard Wood booked for a foul on Robertson.
Crewe managed to get in at the interval trailing just by the one goal.
Early in the second half, Long ran offside after Robertson played him through. At the other end, Smith went in search of a second goal but his shot was blocked by Offord.
The game was crying out for some quality and for someone to get the ball down and play on the deck. Rotherham delaying tactics aimed to frustrate Crewe because we wanted to take advantage of the wind and the game became scrappy.
Richards had to acted decisively on the hour mark to leave his line and push the ball away from Smith after he stole in behind Offord. The Crewe goalkeeper had to intervene quickly and did well to clear the danger.
There was an unfortunate delay after the linesman operating in front of the Rotherham support looked to be struck on the head by an object. It was reported to the referee and the Rotherham captain Wood went over to try and calm the incident. The official tried to carry on but had to be later replaced by the fourth official seemingly suffering from concussion. It was such a shame that the game was marred by the unwanted incident.
Rotherham made a change with Joshua Kayode replaced Grigg on 65 minutes before Robertson was booked for a trip on Ogbene. It would come back to haunt him just minutes later too.
On 70 minutes, Vickers came out with real purpose to punch clear of Porter’s head as he tried to reach O’Riordan’s cross first.
Four minutes after his first yellow card, Robertson received his second for a tackle on the pacy Ogbene. The winger had knocked it past him and Robertson at a stretch didn’t get the ball and the red was inevitable. It left Crewe with an uphill battle with a man down.
Crewe were doubly punished because the awarded free-kick from Barlaser was struck low and Smith moved undetected to get a decisive touch on it and the unprotected Richards couldn’t keep it out after it had struck the post. It was far too easy and from a decent position and being in the game, Crewe were now 2-0 down and a man down. In an instant, the game had rather tamely slipped away from us.
Artell made a double change with Callum Ainley and new signing, Sambou on for Finney and Porter.
Sass-Davies was booked for seemingly winning the ball from Kayode, as the gaps began to appear for the Millers. It was all about their game management and breaking when they could in numbers, looking to add a third goal.
Kayode fed Ben Wiles on the edge of the box, but he dragged his shot wide of the mark under pressure from Murphy. Wiles also had another effort blocked.
The lively Long shot low at Vickers late on as we looked to score a first goal in three games and Sambou showed flashes of his potential with some good runs and good touches.
Crewe had been in a fairly even contest this afternoon in testing conditions until Robertson was sent off and Rotherham’s main hit-man Michael Smith helped himself to a simple second goal. The Millers saw out the final 9 minutes of stoppage time with no real scares.