After the freezing weather did its best to distort the fixture list and pile up the midweek fixtures for February and March, it was back to league duty for Crewe after ten days off since they overcame Bradford to reach the northern area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
The 1-1 draw at Leyton Orient on the twelfth day of January seemed an age ago and Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth gave Crewe a chance to get back to winning ways in League One after also losing to Stevenage in their previous home game.
After losing just one of this season’s fifteen home games at Dean Court, Bournemouth were not going to present an easy visit for side who have been witnessing a malaise in performances since the emphatic victory at Preston at the beginning of December. Crewe have won three times since then, but with scrappy, sluggish performances which have alerted manager Steve Davis to the need to alter formations and personnel as he attempts to arrest the slide that has now crept in through the form of results.
Davis tweaked the team further for the journey down south with Max Clayton partnering Mathias Pogba in attack as Bradden Inman and Byron Moore played wide of Abdul Osman and Luke Murphy in a 4-4-2, an alien system when it considered Davis has alternated with a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-5-2 over the course of the season. The defence was also changed, ever-present centre-half Mark Ellis was bizarrely dropped in favour of Adam Dugdale (who should not be starting at this level) and 20 year old Jon Guthrie, a centre-half by trade, was pushed to left-back to cover Matt Tootle’s absence through injury.
Against a side who had scored 47 goals in the comfort of their own home and had lost just one of their previous seventeen games, things looked ominous for Crewe who were a goal down within eight minutes. Dugdale succumbed to Marc Pugh’s trickery in the box and his fall led to Iain Williamson pointing at the penalty spot to allow Brett Pittman to fire past Steve Phillips. Crewe were settling in however and for a young side, their response was positive, Max Clayton headed at Shwan Jalal after good work by Moore, Inman and Murphy all saw shots go wide of the post while Pogba saw a drive deflected out for a corner.
Despite the good football being played there was little cutting edge and in Josh McQuoid and Lewis Grabban, the Cherries had a large threat on the counter attack, the latter broke free to round Steve Phillips on the stroke of half-time only to hit the side-netting with his effort. The second half continued in a similar vein, Pittman had three half chances while the pace of Grabban was also a constant danger, Phillips had to deny the attacker with his legs on the hour mark. For Crewe, Inman curled a shot just over while a neat passing move led to Pogba teeing up Osman who could not register enough power on his shot, it was the epitome of the good football the away side were playing that contained little ruthlessness in front of goal.
Probably the best indication into how well Crewe played to no reward was Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe’s admission that his own side appeared “leggy” and “tired” as a result of a packed recent schedule. “Such is the spirit in the squad that we managed to find our rhythm in the second half and we were superb” said Howe who saw his team double their lead in the 66th minute after Pittman applied a deadly finish to McQuoid’s low cross. Midfielder Simon Francis then forced a mistake from Phillips and defender Harry Arter should have put the game to bed as he headed over with the goal at his mercy.
Bournemouth were nearly made to pay for that miss as eighteen year old Ryan Colclough, who together with Ajay Leitch-Smith came on for Clayton and Inman, stabbed home at the back post following a scuffed effort from Pogba to halve the lead with fifteen minutes to go. It was the promising winger’s first professional goal and it gave the Alex a feint hope, only to see it soon extinguished as Wes Fogden, a Bournemouth substitute for McQuoid, was tripped by Osman to another, albeit controversial, penalty award.
Pittman thrashed it home to complete his hat-trick and to finish Crewe off. Davis was left to bemoan the referee’s decisions but the lesson was clear in that despite playing well, teams have to be clinical or risk being punished by very good teams, which Bournemouth clearly are, they moved up to fifth in League One while Crewe slipped down to 13th, the play-offs now a very distant dream separated by a margin of eight points.
This was always going to present a tough assessment of Crewe’s young side who are still on an education in League One and positives will be taken from the decent performances from Clayton, Moore and the young Guthrie who filled in respectably at left-back. There were clear signs of life that the in-form Crewe of November and early December was on its way back despite the run of three games without a win that Davis will have another attempt at stopping it against Scunthorpe back at Gresty Road next Saturday.
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