The Alex secured back-to-back victories with a deserved 2-0 away win at Oxford United on Tuesday evening. Goals from Mikael Mandron and Owen Dale ensured the Reds returned to Cheshire with all three points.
A rather cagey opening to the game for both teams, evident that both sides wanted to get the ball down and play in the right manner. With little coming for either side in the final third, the game appeared to have a draw written all over it.
The first real chance fell in favour of Oxford on 20 minutes. Perry Ng conceding a free kick on the edge of the Crewe penalty area. The U’s skipper, James Henry, struck his effort directly into the Crewe wall and was eventually cleared for a first corner for the U’s.
Five minutes later, an encouraging passing move saw Tom Lowery flash a shot wide of Eastwood’s left-hand post.
Crewe continued to enjoy possession in the final third, creating chances but again nothing came of them. Though they did look the more dangerous when going forward, and surely the deadlock would be unlocked soon?
So, it proved too, 28 minutes saw Mandron bundle the ball over the line for his 7th goal of the season. Patient play on the left wing saw Kirk and Pickering combine once again, threading the ball into Finney inside the penalty area. His near post cross was met by Mandron who managed to bundle the ball goalward, trickling past a grounded Eastwood.
Confidence grew and following an Oxford corner, the Alex had an excellent opportunity to catch the U’s defence on the break. Finney found himself vacant in centre field, though couldn’t quite get the final ball through to Powell who would have been in behind the Yellows defence.
Finney made amends, picking up the ball on the half way line to then attack with purpose. Playing a defence splitting pass, he managed to slip Mandron in behind, who probably should have worked the goalkeeper, but his effort flew high and wide of the post.
The second half began, in a similar fashion to how the first ended. With the home side struggling to cause Crewe any real problems, Karl Robinson looked to his bench and made a double change just before the hour mark.
David Artell soon counteracted the U’s changes. making a double substitution of his own, with Callum Ainley and Luke Murphy replacing Oli Finney and Tom Lowery to freshen up the midfield.
With 16 minutes remaining, Owen Dale replaced Powell. Moments later, Oxford created their best chance of the evening. A free header for Winnall, but he found his effort sailing up and over the top of the crossbar.
In order to protect the one goal advantage, Crewe had to remain cool and concentrated as they came into the final knockings of the game. The Alex have had a history of losing leads in the final minutes, although this group of players look to have put that behind them in recent months.
The Railwaymen so nearly doubled the lead from a Pickering corner. Beckles met it with his head to force Eastwood into a superb reaction save, Mandron reacted though his half volley was blocked on the line. Crewe appealed for a handball infringement, but referee Will Finnie waved away the appeals.
Luke Murphy should have secured the three points with Crewe’s next attack. Again, the Pickering and Kirk partnership created an attack, in which Kirk pulled back his cross for Murphy’s side-footed shot, only to go the wrong side of the post.
Crewe sealed the win in stoppage time. Murphy opened up the space for Ainley who slipped in Dale on the right of the penalty area. Keeping his cool, he drilled his effort across the goalkeeper and in off the post.
Kirk had an opportunity to mark his fine performance with a goal for himself. On the break, Ainley was the provider again, slipping him in and Kirk shaped himself to bend it into the far corner but on his effort cleared the far post.
Back-to-back wins and clean sheets for the Alex, standing them in good stead for Saturday’s trip to Portsmouth.