Crewe Alexandra 4
Doyle 44 (OG), M Clayton 77, Inman 89, Aneke 90
Bradford City 1
Tuesday 15 January, 2013
By Gareth Walker
Coming away from Gresty Road tonight, it was strange not to feel too down after a 4-1 defeat. The reason I didn’t feel too low was partly because we didn’t witness a performance that deserved a 4-1 defeat and partly because, on the list of priorities left this season, this game ranked well below a league game at table toppers Port Vale on Saturday and a trip to Villa for a League Cup semi final Second Leg next Tuesday.
It was hardly surprising, therefore, to see Phil Parkinson make eight changes to the side that were defeated by Oxford in last weekend’s home league game. The eight changes that were made mean that the club could face a £5,000 fine from the FA because rules state that clubs are meant to have six starters in JPT games from their last league game. Having seemingly broken the rules, the biggest surprise was maybe that PP didn’t make an extra change and give Nathan Doyle a rest too.
The other players that maintained their place from the Oxford defeat were Ryan Dickson at left back and Andy Gray up front.
The game itself was a strange affair, where City competed well against higher league opposition for the first hour and only really lost their way somewhat when Gray and Alan Connell were replaced up front by Zavon Hines and Nahki Wells.
It wasn’t that either of the two substitutes played badly, both were quite lively in fact when the ball was occasionally played on the floor; it was more because City failed to change their main tactic of launching the aerial ball down the middle and, as such, the Crewe centre backs gobbled up possession easily against the City attackers who had much smaller frames.
This raises questions about the way City play when James Hanson isn’t in the team, because as was the case on Saturday, even with his replacement Gray in the side, we do not win the same aerial balls that our number nine normally would. Gray to me is more of a Connell type player in that he holds the ball up well and can bring others into play. Neither, as was evident tonight, are going to do the job that Hanson does and, therefore, if we are not going to sign a competitor for James’ place, surely we should be thinking about changing our tactics when he is unavailable.
In truth, Crewe probably had the better of the first half as they imposed their famous passing style onto a largely reserve City XI. Neither keeper was really tested however, Gray’s lack of pace being the reason for this: on one occasion he was played clean in on goal behind the Crewe defence only to be easily caught by one of the centre backs who was chasing back.
In fact, the first real shot on goal produced the first goal. City broke down the left and Kyel Reid unleashed a rocket of a shot that bounced just in front ‘Alex Keeper Alan Martin and beat him into the far corner of the net. 1-0City.
It was interesting to see Reid get a full 90 minutes under his belt as he continues to work his way back to full fitness following his injury lay off. He showed patches of his ability at times but, in truth, struggled to get the better of Crewe defender Kelvin Mellor. So much so that we debated as we walked back to the car afterwards whether or not he is now fully fit but is just being kept out of the side by the impressive recent performances of Hines.
After the goal, the game resumed its previous pattern as Crewe dominated with the ball on the ground against a lacklustre City midfield pairing of Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones. It was a particularly disappointing performance from Jones, who had only recently spoken of his desire to stay at City and make a go of things. At least the energy and desire was there from Ravenhill, even if the application wasn’t. Jones however, seemed to be lacking in all three areas.
Despite their domination of possession, Crewe struggled to break through the City back line as Curtis Good and Tom Naylor made a useful if inexperienced partnership at centre back and Nathan Doyle was his usual classy self, even though he was playing out of position at right back.
It was no surprise therefore when the equaliser did come that it was somewhat of a fluke goal right on the stroke of half time. Impressive Crewe winger Byron Moore got away down the City left, but sliced his cross to the back post horribly. This caught Jon McLaughlin badly out of position and dropped down on the goal line. A scrambling Nathan Doyle could do nothing but end up in the back of the net with the ball. 1-1.
In the second half City were initially the better side and began to dominate territorially for a short while at least. We forced a couple of corners and free kicks but in truth never really threatened Alex substitute ‘Keeper Steve Phillips. Crewe, however, did continue to look somewhat of a threat on the break and forced McLaughlin into a couple of saves.
Parkinson made the aforementioned double substitution on 66 minutes and Wells in particular was greeted with a rousing reception from a 400 strong City faithful. Connell meanwhile looked to be limping as he went off.
The game somewhat changed at this point through no real fault of the substitutes. Crewe began to gain control of possession more easily and were rewarded with three late goals.
Firstly, McLaughlin was at fault for being beaten at his near post by a Max Clayton header as he moved across his goal in anticipation of a deeper cross than the one that actually came in.
The third and fourth goals came on the break as City pushed in search of an equaliser. Firstly two or three quick passes saw Braddon Unman bearing down on McLaughlin and he beat him comfortably with a low drive from the left hand side of the area into the far corner.
Then a Chuks Aneke volley from outside the box came through a crowd of players and beat McLaughlin after Crewe had won a set piece again on the break.
In all honesty, City pushing forward on the break had allowed a tight game to open up and there were more chances in the final 15 minutes than there had been in the rest of the game put together. During this time we saw a miraculous goal line clearance from Doyle and a disallowed Crewe goal, as well as what was almost a comical Crewe own goal after Hines, Wells and Blair Turgott had caused panic in the penalty area.
What was interesting during this time however, was Parkinson’s decision to bring Carl McHugh on as a makeshift centre forward in place of a disappointing Ryan Dickson.
It was obvious why the decision had been taken – City needed an extra body at the top end of the field for Hines and Wells to feed off. The fact that there was only McHugh and Scott Brown left on the bench also meant that McHugh was the only real option as we needed someone who could win the aerial ball, as there was no sign of that tactic being changed.
The choice of who to take off wasn’t too surprising either as Dickson had recently disappointed by ducking out of a couple of 50-50 tackles.
As mentioned previously, the bigger concern here was that the change gave us more questions rather than answers, as we still look short of an option when Hanson doesn’t play and we continue to play the aerial ball.
All in all, this wasn’t a bad performance from the team as a whole and 4-1 certainly flattered Crewe, but what was more disappointing was the failure of individual players such as Jones and Dickson to grab their chance to impress.
On the plus side, Good had a decent game in defence as did the ever impressive Turgott on the right wing. Also, we are now out of one cup and won’t have to play the two or even three extra games this season that a victory at Crewe would have brought about.
We move on now to the much more important matters of Port Vale in the league on Saturday and Villa in the cup next Tuesday.
City: McLaughlin, Doyle, Naylor, Good, Dickson (McHugh 84), Turgott, Ritchie Jones, Ravenhill, Reid, Gray (Wells 66), Connell (Hines 66)
Not used: Duke, Brown