Town: Chris Weale, Cameron Gayle (Goldson, 56), Joe Jacobson, Darren Jones, Yado Mambo, Marvin Morgan (Purdie, 84), Matt Richards (c), Dave McAllister (McGinn, 64), Luke Summerfield, Tom Eaves, Jon Taylor
Subs: Joe Anyon, Connor Goldson, Steve McGinn, Paul Parry, Rob Purdie, Luke Rodgers, Aaron Wildig
Crewe Alex: Steve Phillips, Harry Davis, Mark Ellis, Max Clayton (Ellington, 81), Luke Murphy (c), Mathias Pogba, Ajay Leitch-Smith, Byron Moore, Kelvin Mellor (Tootle, 82), Gregor Robertson, Abdul Osman
Subs: Alan Martin, Matt Tootle, Adam Dugdale, Oliver Turton, Chuks Aneke, Ryan Colclough, Nathan Ellington
Referee: P. Gibbs
Assistants: D. Benton & P. Hobday
Fourth Official: P. Gooch
Attendance: 5,106 (1,005 from Shrewsbury)
Martin Wild reports from Gresty Road
Luke Summerfield’s 28th minute header cancelled out Byron Moore’s opener at Wembley-bound Crewe as Town secured another precious point on their travels. It was a tightly-contested affair in Cheshire with a draw about the fairest result on the balance of play.
Shrewsbury’s midweek win at Milton Keynes made manager Graham Turner’s team selection for this clash with Wembley-bound Crewe that little bit easier. Turner decided to stick with the same starting line-up that landed an unlikely victory in Buckinghamshire, with the only change to the 18 a recall on the bench for midfielder Aaron Wildig, as Chris Porter has returned to parent club Sheffield United.
Despite the clear skies at the Alexandra Stadium, the floodlights were on as the home side got proceedings under way. There were around a thousand Town fans packed into the stand on the far side and they were already in good voice buoyed by that precious fourth away win on Tuesday evening.
Cameron Gayle faced an early test when Alex hitman Mathias Pogba seemed to wriggle free but the Town defender tracked him across the 18 yard line and got in a tremendous challenge. It left the striker hobbling such was the ferocity of the tackle although he quickly recovered.
After just ten minutes the home side were in front. Ajay Leitch-Smith played a defence-splitting through ball into the path of Moore and despite Chris Weale making the target as small as possible, Moore threaded the ball across the keeper and in at the base of the far post. It was a really good finish and just what Crewe were looking for after losing three on the bounce here.
Shrews were finding it hard to settle with the playing surface a little tricky and bereft of much grass after a harsh winter. Crewe have had a number of postponements here this season and might be a little fresher after their scheduled home clash against Sheffield was the latest victim with the pitch frozen in midweek.
One enterprising run from the halfway line saw Jon Taylor advance right to the edge of the Crewe penalty area but although the shot was on target, it lacked sufficient power or direction to trouble Steve Phillips between the Crewe posts.
There wasn’t a whole lot to choose between the sides and Salop levelled just before the half hour. Marvin Morgan swung over a wonderfully inviting cross and Summerfield timed his arrival into the box to perfection to head powerfully beyond a stranded Phillips.
It was a great time to level but Crewe’s response was almost immediate. Dave McAllister conceded a dangerous looking free-kick on the edge of the ‘D’ and Harry Davis was only a fraction away with Weale having waved the effort bye bye.
Shrewsbury were beginning to find their rhythm somewhat and a sweeping move from one flank to another ended with Joe Jacobson firing in a shot from distance straight at Phillips.
McAllister became the first recipient of a yellow card for a nothing tangle in the centre circle but after his earlier indiscretion, the referee had clearly lost patience.
From a creative point of view, little had been seen of the home side despite their whirlwind start to the game. But Gregor Robertson might have done better than head over with a far post effort after a probing cross from Kelvin Mellor.
Town came within a whisker of winning a penalty a couple of minutes before half time when Morgan was tripped but the ref was perfectly positioned and indicated a free kick plum on the edge of the box. Taylor’s shot carried bags of punch but the wall did its job and the danger subsided.
A late corner was headed over by Yado Mambo so honours were even at the halfway stage.
Half Time: Crewe Alex 1 Town 1
Weale showed good reflexes to paw away Leitch-Smith’s centre as Crewe threatened immediately after the break and he got sufficient purchase on the ball to clear anyone in a red shirt waiting to pounce. Moments later Weale blocked at the near post to deny Leitch-Smith who had beaten the offside trap and attempted to find the net from an acute angle.
Steve Davis’ side were pinning Town deep inside their defensive third and the visitors were struggling to get the ball into the Alex half. It was frustrating stuff and that was never more evident than when Eaves picked up a senseless booking – his second in as many matches – for kicking the ball away when he was pulled up for a foul.
Gayle picked up a knock which led to an immediate substitution and Connor Goldson took his place at right back before the hour.
When play resumed Taylor drilled in a low cross but no-one had gambled and the ball ran harmlessly along the six yard box to let Crewe off the hook.
The game had become a scrappy affair and the home fans were quick to voice their disapproval with each misplaced pass. But without question, the pitch was largely responsible for preventing two decent footballing sides from plying their trade to the best of their abilities.
Turner shuffled his pack again with just over 25 minutes left in a like-for-like swap that saw Steve McGinn introduced for McAllister.
Taylor and Summerfield both saw shots charged down in the same attack and as Crewe broke clear it needed a very good save low down at his near post by Weale to deny Max Clayton. Within a minute Leitch-Smith’s curler only just arced wide of the far upright as Crewe enjoyed their best spell since the goal. Town hadn’t really got going save for the odd half chance and they were grateful to see Pogba’s rising drive fizz over the top with the hosts still in the ascendancy and the crowd, for once, behind their side.
In a rare attack from Town, Eaves demonstrated all the qualities that have earned him a three year deal at Bolton. He showed immense strength and determination to burst clear from the halfway line right into the box but Phillips denied him a wonder goal with a vital block. There might even have been a shout for a pen as he appeared to be clipped from behind by a desperate defender as he got the shot off. Eaves had fed off scraps all game but give him a sight of goal and he seldom disappoints.
Salop had the most almighty let off with eight minutes to go when sub Nathan Ellington – on the pitch for less than a minute – smashed a close range header against the face of the Town bar and Turner responded by making a final change with Rob Purdie coming on for Morgan. Purdie’s involvement was equally as quick as Ellington’s. Eaves found his run into the box and when he went down under a challenge it looked like a penalty would be the official’s only decision. But it was waved away amidst howls of protest from those travelling fans.
Mambo and Richards got into a pickle with three minutes left which could have left them both cherry-faced had Pogba’s blistering strike been a bit lower as the rains cascaded down on Gresty, with much of the horizon having vanished under the gloomy skies.
With four minutes of added time indicated, Goldson peeled away from his marker at Taylor’s flag kick but elected to head back across goal rather than have a punt himself. It found a red shirt not a blue one and the chance went begging. Taylor took on a first time shot straight after only to fire well wide and neither side would go any closer to finding a winner.
Full Time: Crewe Alex 1 Town 1