A commanding 3-0 scoreline at the break ends in misery at the final whistle for Crewe.
The Alex went into this encounter on the back of a five-game unbeaten run in the league, whereas the hosts had failed to win at home in their previous nine games. A win for the Reds could’ve moved them up to seventh in the league table, but the Dale’s spirited second half fight back held the two sides to a 3-3 draw.
Crewe led 3-0 at the interval courtesy of a brace from Oli Finney and another from Owen Dale. Finney put the Alex ahead after just six minutes before turning provider for Dale with just 23 minutes played. Charlie Kirk then got in on the action just after the half hour, after the winger charged forward on the counter-attack before squaring across goal to Finney for his second of the game.
David Artell’s side were firmly in command at the break but the home side pulled one back just two minutes into the second half, after a cross from the left missed everyone in red before Aaron Morley claimed the final touch to direct towards goal. Former midfielder, Matt Lund, had the final say as he was at the double.
Artell named an unchanged starting XI from the one that drew 1-1 at home to Fleetwood Town on boxing Day. Young full-back Travis Johnson made his second successive start as club captain, Perry Ng, served his final game of his six-match suspension. Likewise, Harry Pickering took the armband once again.
Some of the club’s younger prospects made the squad of 18 as Joe Robbins, Nathan Woodthorpe and Tyrese Onyeka were named on the substitutes bench.
Rochdale named former Alex academy graduate, Matty Lund, in their starting XI. The 30-year-old joined Stoke City in 2009 after the conclusion of his scholarship.
Crewe got off the best start they could’ve hoped for following a well worked passing move down the right side. Johnson crossed a wonderful delivery to the centre of the box only for Finney to latch onto and direct into the bottom corner.
Despite the early set back, the hosts responded well and continued to see more of the ball and forced Will Jaaskelainen into his first meaningful save after 14 minutes. A downward header from Matty Done needed the Alex stopper to make a smart but comfortable save for a corner.
The game was an asset to English football as both sides wanted to get the ball down and play meaning referee, Andy Haines, didn’t really need to use the sound of his whistle.
The Railwaymen stood strong to the Dale’s surge of pressure, in fact, against the run of play Artell’s side took a two goal lead just after 20 minutes. A period of football in which was rather ‘José Mourinho’ like as Crewe soaked up the pressure and hit the home side on the counter-attack.
Ryan Wintle played the ball forward to Kirk as he destined towards goal unchallenged. The winger managed to pick out Finney before he slotted a first-time ball through to Dale who calmly slotted it past Gavin Bazunu in the Rochdale goal.
The Greater Manchester side tried to regain some sort of foothold in the game but, the closest they came to troubling the Reds goal was from a 20-yard strike from Stephen Humphrys which was just inches above the crossbar.
On 35 minutes, Crewe once again produced another punishing counter attacking move stemming from a Rochdale corner. A block from Dale on the edge of his own penalty area invitingly span to the feet of Kirk on the halfway line. With only one defender back, Kirk fancied his chances and surged towards goal, with the on-rushing Dale and Finney in support Kirk crossed to the far post for Finney to make it 3-0.
Crewe headed in at the break with the three-goal advantage and firmly in control at The Crown Oil Arena.
Half Time: Rochdale AFC 0-3 Crewe Alexandra
Expecting a reaction from the home side, the Reds needed to remain focused and not to become complacent.
Rochdale began the second period with vengeance, as they pulled a goal back just minutes in. Humphrys cross from the left was whipped into the danger zone but, deceived everyone in red finding its way into the far corner of the net. A rather soft goal to concede.
Meanwhile, the Alex responded well and down the opposite end Mikael Mandron came close. Showing his physical presence as he managed to power through the opposition bodies, his poked effort just cleared the far post.
The left sided duo of Kirk and Pickering once again linked up and after a cute flick on from Kirk, the skipper drilled a cross from the by-line which was too hot to handle for Bazunu. It only needed a red shirt to anticipate play and the Alex would’ve regained their three-goal lead.
Crewe began to rue them missed chances as the home side got a second on the hour mark. The home sides pressure around the penalty area was deterred by some blocks before the ball eventually dropped to Lund who fired into the bottom corner.
Five minutes later and a rather controversial decision from the team of officials left Crewe furious. The referee pointed straight to the spot for handball against a Rochdale defender, after an Omar Beckles header hit a hand. Under protest from the home side, the referee consulted his assistant before restarting play with a dropped ball.
A strange decision when the referee had a clear view of the incident and made no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Once again, the Alex came close as the ball was switched from left to right, Dale powered towards goal before crossing although the wintry conditions of wind and snow seemed to divert the ball goal wards. A scrambling Bazunu couldn’t do anything and could only watch the ball strike the far post.
With just one goal in it, the next goal was going to be crucial to either side.
10 minutes remaining and Dale manager, Barry Brian-Murphy, injected some fresh legs to his side, trying to grab that equaliser.
Moments later, that equaliser arrived for the hosts as their physical presence told.
A corner from the left was lofted into the centre of the box as Jaaskelainen came to claim the ball, although climbing through a ruck of bodies he couldn’t claim possession. Likewise, his failed attempts meant the ball fell to the feet of Lund at the far post to exquisitely fire the ball into the roof of the net.
A few minutes later, Mandron was replaced by Chris Porter for the final knockings of the game.
A real game of two halves, that after 90 minutes feels like a loss to the Reds on their travels. The only positive you can take from the game is that the unbeaten run continues.
Full Time: Rochdale AFC 3-3 Crewe Alexandra
Man of the match – Oli Finney (2 goals, 1 assist)