A measure of displeasure: Crewe (a)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Pat Bell

9 March 2010

Crewe Alexandra 4 Grimsby Town 2

Leave Crewe station, turn left and Crewe's stadium looms over you. A huge floodlit stand puts all the buildings around it, including the other three sides of the ground, into the shade. Arriving an hour early, it is only the floodlights that suggest you have got the right night, and it is only the cold that reminds you this is not a pre-season friendly. A team 9First in the league may not be the biggest draw, but Crewe's support are cowed by their one huge stand. As the match began, the chants of the Town support echoed around a seemingly deserted and otherwise silent stadium.

First half
This was a shame, as from the very earliest stages, when Crewe found space wide on our right and sent over a cross that was only just too high and long, the home crowd had far more to cheer about. Town looked inventive going forward, Sweeney looking for the runs of Coulson and Akpa Akpro, the two of them and Devitt regularly swapping positions, but it only led to the possibility of chances.

Akpa Akpro stood out. To his strength and pace he has added intelligence, time and again just delaying a short pass to make sure he drew his man and could release a player into space. He was involved in our best moment, picking up the ball just inside the Crewe half, running at the defence and then slipping a pass into the penalty area for Coulson to run on to, Crewe bundling the ball out for a corner.

What Town lacked was a platform in midfield. As moves broke down, Crewe were regularly able to break forward unhindered and find space out wide. Linwood, replacing Lancashire, and Atkinson were exposed and uncertain, and Colgan was soon busy.

After seven minutes, Donaldson took possession with back to goal on the edge of the area, turned past Linwood and shot low to the right-hand corner of the goal. Colgan punched the ball clear and a shot from outside the penalty area from the rebound was blocked by Bore for a corner. Soon after, Colgan parried at his near post a shot from Miller after Sweeney had lost possession and Crewe broke down our right.

Next, Colgan recovered from starting to come out for a cross from the left, changing his mind and back-pedalled to tip a header over the bar. The final let-off came when Linwood missed a long ball into the Town area which fell at the feet of Miller, Colgan diving to his right to hold the badly underhit shot.

It was from another long ball that Crewe finally took the lead, Colgan making an initial save but the ball returning to the box to find Moore in plenty of space near the penalty spot. Colgan got a strong hand to his shot but could not stop it hitting the inside netting.

The next 12 minutes were hectic. There was time for Town to look visibly demoralised before they equalised. Sweeney took possession on the half way line and played the ball into the path of Akpa Akpro. One touch took him to the corner of the penalty area and he just managed to squeeze away a shot with his left foot which rolled beyond Phillips in the Crewe goal and finished just inside the far post.

Minutes later, a few passes in from the Grimsby penalty area turned defenders into stone: the last pass found Grant all on his own and he shot low into the corner, giving Colgan no chance.

At some point, Devitt, who had never quite looked up to pace, was replaced by Hegarty, whose miskick fell to Sinclair, who equalised from seven or eight yards out.

After that, we all needed a breather. Grimsby reached half time scarcely deserving to be in touch, but we were on level terms, with a puncher's chance of getting something from the game.

Second half
The Mariners made a tactical switch at half time, and for ten minutes, it worked. Peacock dropped into midfield in a 4-5-1. There were no chances to either side but we dominated possession and if it left Akpa Akpro to fight for scraps, he did a good job of it.

Then we collapsed. A nothing ball wide to our left was allowed to bounce and roll as Linwood and Widdowson dithered, perhaps hoping it might run for a goal kick before they had to concede a corner or throw-in. It allowed Donaldson to win possession on the bye-line, muscle his way past Atkinson and cut the ball back to the edge of the penalty area for Westwood to shoot, hard and true, into the roof of the net.

Suddenly, the midfield returned to fragility; Westwood robbed Peacock just inside the Grimsby half, advanced unimpeded on the penalty area and shot over the right corner of the goal; Westwood robbed Sweeney, advanced unimpeded on the penalty area and shot just wide of the left post. Sweeney was booked - the late tackle itself, just inside the Crewe half was innocuous but the referee's hand gestures suggested that other offences were being taken into consideration.

Soon after, Sweeney and Coulson made way for Leary and Proudlock, with Akpa Akpro moving to the wing, and to Town's credit, from looking as though they might be swamped, they recovered their equilibrium. Hegarty was the spur, his direct running and workrate on the left beginning to pose some problems for Crewe. He produced Town's best moment of the second half, robbing the Crewe full-back, running up the wing and sending over a deep cross for Peacock. The Crewe goalkeeper flung himself across goal and Peacock's volley bounced off him and up over the bar to land on the roof of the net. The corner was headed just over the bar.

We strung together a couple more chances: Peacock's deflection header from a cross from the right, and Akpa Akpro's turn and shot, off balance, from a cross by Proudlock were both comfortably gathered by Phillips. However, the match was open at both ends now, and Crewe continued to look likely to extend their lead, Donaldson poking a shot wide from the edge of the area after being judged onside.

Meanwhile, the temper of the match had slowly come to the boil, from the first half played as though in tribute to the glory days of a Gradi v Buckley encounter in the second flight, scarcely a foot raised in anger, through a series of minor fouls inevitably awarded to Crewe, culminating in the point when Widdowson drifted across the field 30 yards from the Crewe goal, was bundled over, fairly, according to the ref, leading to a break which Linwood ended with a foul and the game's second booking.

With five minutes to play, Crewe sub Carl Martin lost possession on the halfway line, stretched to regain it, took both feet off the ground and clattered Leary on the shin. Players mindful of the cliché about the dangers of being seen to raise their arms indulged in some multiple chest-barging, hands pointedly down at their sides, and Martin was sent off. Given Town's record against ten men, our last chance of scoring had disappeared.

In the final minute, a hopeful punt to our right found Donaldson ducking back onside and with the freedom of a quarter of the pitch. With Town short on numbers, they largely ignored Donaldson while marking up the Crewe players coming in support. Donaldson weaved back towards goal and, with everyone expecting him to lay the ball off, wrong-footed Colgan who went tumbling back into the net as the ball rolled in at the near post.

There was time for the tannoy to announce the man of the match and pointedly not announce the attendance, but no time for anything else.

Town hadn't been disgraced, just beaten by a side more effective in all areas. If we were in Crewe's position, we could have just enjoyed the game, but enjoyment no longer enters into it.