Rotherham's quality from the bench prove too much in contain for Alex in later stages.
Crewe Alexandra’s run in the Papa John’s Trophy came to an end at the quarter final stage after a gallant effort against Rotherham United. Crewe led 1-0 early on thanks to Mikael Mandron’s tidy finish but then trailed 2-1 in the second period before Scott Robertson produced a stunning equaliser with 20 minutes remaining.
The impressive Millers brought on even more quality from their bench and eventually ran away with the tie with substitutes’ Joshua Kayode and Freddie Ladapo both netting. Crewe had remained in the game for such long period in what proved to be a thrilling cup-tie.
David Artell utilised his squad for the visit of Rotherham United this evening. The Alex boss returned the likes of defenders Terrell Thomas, Donervon Daniels, Travis Johnson and youngster Connor O’Riordan and Regan Griffiths and Scott Robertson returned to the starting line-up in midfield. Will Jaaskelainen started in goal in place of Welshman, David Richards.
A strong Alex bench contained the experience of Chris Porter, Luke Murphy and Madger Gomes named in the eighteen. There was also a first senior call-up for young forward, Connor Sailsbury.
Paul Warne’s side came out in the early exchanges with the confidence of a team top of League One. They certainly enjoyed the majority of the possession and forced Jaaskelainen into a 4th minute save from Jamie Lindsay after he was found on the edge of the box from a short corner. The Crewe goalkeeper had to push it out into a crowded box and he had his defenders to rely on to complete the clearance.
Although Rotherham had most of the ball in the opening 10 minutes, it was Crewe who took the lead in the 11th minute. Mikael Mandron was cleverly played through on a counter attack and although he had the supportive Oli Finney to his left, the Frenchman took it upon himself to go alone and despite being under severe pressure, he slotted it beyond Josh Vickers for the opening goal on the night.
Rotherham tried to instantly reply, but Johnson did well in the left wing back role to win an important header at the far post after winger Tolaji Bola had crossed from the opposite side.
Crewe were working hard to press the Millers into going back and the shape was good. Crewe began to grow into the game and the confidence of the goal saw us create some half chances. An accurate pass out from Daniels found Ramsay in space and after carrying it forward into the Rotherham half of the pitch, he found Finney on the edge of the box but he sliced his shot wide of the mark.
O’Riordan was assured and was excellent at passing the ball into midfield. Ainley held it up well on 25 minutes to find Griffiths and his instant pass nearly released Mandorn but goalkeeper Vickers had read it and emerged to head the ball to safety.
Wes Harding was booked for a foul on Johnson but from the free-kick, Rotherham broke on us and we had Ainley to thank for dragging Bola all the way back. It was terrific defending.
As a creative force, Ainley spun and his cross was just ahead of Mandron.
A loose cross from the impressive Kieran Sadlier caused more trouble than it merited when Thomas headed the ball up into the air and Michael Smith’s shot had to be turned behind by an alert Jaaskelainen. Lindsay also headed a near post header over after more good work from Bola.
Crewe were heading into the half with the advantage but were punished with four minutes remaining. The Alex had not been set right for once, granting Sadlier far too much space and his excellent flat shot from just over 20 yards flew past a static Crewe goalkeeper for an equaliser.
Five minutes into the second half, Smith found some space just inside the box but his shot was straight at Jaaskelainen. It became a real open affair and Crewe found themselves behind for the first time after 57 minutes. A cross from Harding was flicked on and the poacher Smith guided it home for 2-1.
Crewe struggled to keep the ball for periods after falling behind. Thomas cut out a low cross from Sadlier before a flurry of substitutes began to occur.
A long cross from Griffiths saw Mandron put Vickers under pressure before a strong run from Robertson forced a corner. From the set piece, Griffiths unleashed a powerful drive that had to be pushed out by Vickers.
Artell bought on Murphy and Tabiner for Finney and Ramsay. Crewe’s equaliser arrived with a real bolt of the blue. There didn’t seem much on for Robertson so he took it on himself to unleash an unstoppable shot from almost 30 yards that arrowed into the top corner. Crewe had gallantly fought back and that prompted Warne into more changes with Ladapo, Rathbone and Ogbene all introduced.
Players of that quality were sure to inject some zest in attack and Crewe in all honestly couldn’t contain them in the final stages. It become a bit frenetic, as Rotherham went for the jugular.
With eight minutes remaining, Robertson should have cleared our lines and we were punished when Joe Mattocks’ accurate cross was headed in at close range by Kayode.
Crewe tried to chase, introduced Porter and debutant Sailsbury but we couldn’t conjure up a chance to perhaps force a penalty shoot-out.
After having a goal disallowed, the busy Freddie Ladapo finished off a late chance with an emphatic finish.