TWO REPORTS FROM CREWE SITES
Alex 2 - Mansfield 0
By Jay Roberts, crewealex.co.uk
After a poor first half display, we defeat improved Mansfield 2-0 following goals from Walton and Miles. Christie was sent off for the visiors whilst Rodney Jack was stretchered off for the Alex.
Following Sunday's disappointing home defeat to fellow promotion hopefuls Oldham, we entertained rejuvenated Mansfield Town on New Years day at the Alexandra Stadium in a bid to get back to winning ways and keep up the pressure on the teams above us.
Dario was forced to make changes to the team which narrowly lost to Oldham on Sunday, as Dean Ashton was withdrawn from that game with a hamstring injury whilst Rob Hulse aggravated a groin injury which had seen him miss the majority of December's games. Steve Jones partnered Rodney Jack in attack whilst David Vaughan was recalled to the starting line up. Neil Sorvel dropped down to the bench as Ben Rix reassumed his midfield role after illness ruled him out against Oldham. Steve Foster retained his starting role despite his sending off against Oldham as we aimed to defeat Mansfield for the 4th time this season.
The pitch seemed to effect both sides during the opening stages of the game, the ball was bobbling around as passes went continually astray as the pitch proved heavy due to constant rain over the festive period. The loss of both Ashton and Hulse to injury seemed to greatly affect our play, the usual flowing passing football wasn't evident and we struggled to string passes together as Mansfield frustrated us by getting men behind the ball and looking to break on the counter attack. Keith Curle has improved the Stag's defensively and we failed to create a clear scoring oppertinity throughout the opening half an hour.
Mansfield seemed to grow in confidence and it was evident that we were not going to match our goal scoring record of previous meetings against them this season. The previous three meetings had produced 5-0, 4-0 and 3-0 victories over the men from Field Mill, yet under new manager Keith Curle, they offered more in resolve against the pace of Jones and Jack and Kevin Pilkington was given much more protection from his rearguard.
The visitors almost opened the scoring midway through the half when Tom Curtis cut inside from the left and drove a powerful effort towards the far post which had Clayton Ince beaten, yet the ball rebounded off the post and fell invingly for Craig Disley, yet he somehow managed to blaze his shot over the bar with an open goal at his mercy. Dario described the chance as 'harder to miss than score' after the game when he reflected on the let off and the miss was just that, a real let off.
Rodney Jack did well on the right for the Alex, but after pushing the ball past his marker and advancing into the Stags' penalty area, his cross was disappointing as he failed to pick out Jones who was unmarked. There was a clear lack of an understanding between Jack and Jones which is understandable considering the few number of games they have played together, yet the partnership was failing to trouble the Mansfield defence as they dealt comfortably with each small sight of an opening for either player. Credit must got to the Stags who had conceded 12 goals against us in the three meetings prior to Wednesday, yet they approached the game seemingly fearless and had Disley converted his glorious chance then they would have entered half time a goal up.
Stephen Foster was found in acres of space from Lunt's precise corner yet the Warrington born defender failed to direct his header on target as it sailed past the upright. It was then Lunt himself who was next to strike an effort goalwards, yet when the ball was only half cleared, the influential Runcorn born vice captain failed to strike the ball cleanly as the ball rolled disappointingly wide.
After a change of referee, and a couple of bookings, the game reached half time with both sides having failed to score. Despite enjoying the majority of possession we failed to trouble former Vale and Manchester United 'keeper, Kevin Pilkington as the sides remained level at 0-0.
H-T Alex 0 - Mansfield 0
The second half began in much the same way the majority of the first half had progressed, neither side having he quality to play the crucial final pass, despite both sides enjoying extended periods of possession, neither could create the elusive scoring chance. Kenny Lunt was struggling to create anything for Jack and Jones, as the pitch didn't aid either sides play.
Despite the best efforts of Jack to test Pilkington, the St. Vincent man was struggling to find form on the heavy pitch which slowed down our attack play, which resulted in attempts to play long, high balls to the small strikers which resulted, unsurprisingly, in little success. Dario then opted to change things around and he brought on John Miles for a rare appearance, as Steve Jones was relieved of his role.
The substitution seemed to lift the team and we began to push forward as a unit, rather than individuals, following a couple of corners which passed without success, we finally took the lead through an unlikely source…
Prior to the visit of Mansfield, Dave Walton had only scored three goals for the club, none of those in the league at the Alexandra Stadium, yet it was he who was in the right place at the right time to open the scoring in the 59th minute. Following Kenny Lunt's curling free kick, Walton reacted first as the ball bounced as he found himself in space at the back post. He chested the ball down and coolly struck the ball with precise direction into the top corner to open the scoring. Walton seemed delighted and it was a welcome relief to finally break the deadlock after almost an hour of the teams cancelling each other out.
Prior to the breakthrough, Christie wasted a glorious opportunity following his own good work. He received the ball 30 yards from goal and after nutmegging Walton, he seemed certain to register a strike on goal, yet when he found himself through on goal, the striker who had 13 league goals to his name shot horribly wide as the Stags again failed to test Ince when well positioned in the box. The wasteful Christie then saw red for his second booking. Following a similar foul on Foz in the first half, he seemed to strike goal scorer Walton in the cheek whilst challenging for a header. The referee was left with no option but to dismiss the striker, as Mansfield's chances seemed to be all but over.
A striker shortage is now a real problem for Dario after Rodney Jack was stretchered off with a suspected hamstring injury. Dario stated after the game that the injury is likely to keep him sidelined for a matter of months and not weeks as Steve Jones and John Miles are now the only fit recognised frontmen.
Following Christie's sending off and Walton's strike, we were left to control the final 10 minutes of the game. Brammer and Lunt dictated play as we contained possession with much more success. John Miles' substitution seemed to be a turning point in the second half and it was the former Liverpool player who doubled the lead in the second minute of injury time. Following an excellent pass from Brammer, Miles controlled the ball with ease and headed towards the visitor's penalty area. After leaving his marker in his wake he then cut inside and delivered a powerful effort across the 'keeper to secure the game. The goal was a fine solo effort and much like that of Rodney Jack's at Cheltenham on Boxing Day.
The final whistle brought an end to what was a difficult yet professional display against a compact and much improved Mansfield side. The influence of experienced defender Keith Curle was evident as they proved much more resolute in defence and proved much more difficult to break down. Mansfield will be relieved that this will be our last meeting with them this season, following our four fixtures against the Stags we have recorded the remarkable sequence of 5-0 (league Field Mill) 4-0 (LDV Vans 1st round Field Mill) 3-0 (F.A. Cup 2nd round Alexandra Stadium) and 2-0 (league Alexandra Stadium) victories against the Stags.
Crewe 2-0 Mansfield Town
Crewe Alexandra got back to winning ways with a gritty 2-0 win over Mansfield Town. After the disappointment of losing our unbeaten run last Sunday, the Railwaymen needed to inflict their fourth win over Mansfield Town this season. Although it was far from a vintage performance by Dario Gradi's side, it does proves that we have enough in the locker to grind out a victory on a bad day, especially as we began the game without first-choice strikers Rob Hulse and Dean Ashton, both ruled out with injury.
After a dismal first half display, Crewe finally broke the deadlock just before the hour mark when Dave Walton calmly arrowed a shot into the top corner following a Kenny Lunt free-kick and then substitute John Miles raced clear to seal it in the final minute. Crewe Alexandra's first 45 minutes of the year 2003 was easily our worst of the season.
There was no fluency to our play and without first choice strikers Dean Ashton and Rob Hulse, we lacked both the aerial presence and power to unsettle the Mansfield defence. New manager Keith Curle has certainly made a huge difference to the Mansfield rearguard from when previous boss Stuart Watkiss was in charge at the Field Mill Stadium. Let's not forget that Crewe had put 12 goals past the Stags in our past three encounters this season - but they certainly frustrated the Crewe players and the supporters in the first period here today.
It was all a bit flat and chances were few and far between. In fact it was the spirited visitors who had the best opportunity of the half and they really should have gone in at the break leading. Somehow blonde midfielder Craig Disley missed an open goal from no more than four yards out after Tom Curtis had hit Clayton Ince's post on 32 minutes. No-one in the Alexandra Stadium could quite believe that Disley had not broken the deadlock. Crewe just couldn't get going and we failed to retain possession when it went forward.
Without Hulse, who aggravated his groin against Oldham on Sunday and Ashton, who pinged his hamstring in the same game, the diminutive strike-force of Steve Jones and Rodney Jack found it difficult to get in behind the well-marshalled Stags defence. They were both caught in the Mansfield offside trap too often but to be fair the service into them wasn't good enough either.
When we did finally get in behind them both Jones and Jack wasted good chances. Jones hit two crosses very tamely and Jack missed controlled a clever through ball from David Vaughan.
Strangely, Jack's normally instant touch let him down and keeper Kevin Pilkington was able to rush off his line and smother the ball at his feet. Midfielder Kenny Lunt had two clear openings but made a mess of both attempts. His first arrived via a Paul Tierney corner but he dragged it horribly wide. He should have done better with the second chance after a probing run by David Wright divided the Mansfield defence. Lunt fluffed his shot and the ball drifted wide of the target. An improved Mansfield outfit were decent on the ball and worked exceptionally hard to nullify the roles of Lunt and Ben Rix after they had destroyed them in the FA Cup just over a month ago.
They were biting into the challenges and tried, like Oldham did on Sunday to impose their physical approach on the game. Not that it was a dirty game, although Iyseden Christie's robust approach to aerial challenges saw him dismissed in the second half for two booking. As good a player as he is, the powerful striker doesn't time his jumps to well and his arm caught Dave Walton and Stephen Foster in each half resulting in his red card.
The first-half also saw a referee change with fourth official Mr. Bratt replacing Mr. Pike in the 27th minute because of a calf strain. There was also a clash of heads involving Rix and Foster, which delayed the half well beyond the suggested 3 minutes! Rix had to leave the field for further treatment but the youngster was the only other Crewe player to register an effort on target in a dull first half. His shot was deflected after good work by Man-of-the-Match Dave Brammer. The Captain tried to get us going and it was his eagerness to retrieve the ball from Lee Williamson in the second half that let to the all-important first goal.
Things did improve in the second half, we were a lot dangerous on the attack and substitute John Miles did make a difference with his intelligent runs and foot-work. Jack gave us all a lift when he flicked the ball over Mansfield's player manager Keith Curle before accelerating away.
In what proved to be a mixed afternoon for Rodney Jack he was booked for some reason after Williamson went down in a heap and then fired his best effort into Pilkington after racing clear of the Mansfield defence. Sadly, his afternoon work ended with him leaving on a stretcher after he twisted his knee and collapsed in a heap. Hopefully, the injury is not too serious and everyone at Crewe wishes Rodders a speedy recovery.
The decisive break through finally arrived in the 59th minute and it came from the most unlikely of sources. Centre-half David Walton was in the right place to chest down a Lunt free-kick and place it perfectly into the top corner of the net. It was the likeable centre-half's first league goal at the Alexandra Stadium.
His only other strike here came against Rushden and Diamonds in the Worthington Cup last season. Walton's other two goals in his Crewe career came at Crystal Palace and at Norwich, on the same night Dario Gradi celebrated 1,000 games in charge of the club.
Seven minutes later and Mansfield's task was made even more difficult following Christie's dismissal for a clash with Walton. It was hard to really see if there was real intent with his arm but the 'substitute' referee did not think too hard before showing him the yellow and then the red.
From then on it was fairly comfortable, although Dario Gradi wasn't too pleased by the amount of free-kicks we were conceding around our penalty area. Without Christie that was their best chance of sneaking an equaliser and their own substitute Chris Beardsley should have done a little better with a header from a Wayne Corden delivery with just ten minutes to go.
With Mansfield pressing forward looking to force an equaliser, Crewe were effective on the break but couldn't find that through ball to put someone in. On more than one occasion a better pass would have seen one of our advanced players through on goal.
We finally got one right in stoppage time, when Brammer released Miles and the former Liverpool man coolly slotted home his first ever goal for Crewe and he deserved it too.
In the end it was a far result - but could have been different game if Disley had tapped home that chance in the first-half. That's now four wins over Mansfield and has created a strange sequence of results 5-0, 4-0, 3-0, 2-0 for Crewe.
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