Cheltenham Town 1-1 Crewe Alexandra Six Things: points shared in lively clash

Gavin Reilly celebrates opener –

Cheltenham Town and Crewe Alexandra kept their promotion pushes on track with a 1-1 draw at the Jonny-Rocks stadium. Here’s our Six Things from an entertaining encounter.

Cheltenham’s opener against run of play

Crewe had arguably the better of the opening exchanges, but it was Cheltenham who took the lead when Chris Hussey’s corner was turned home by Gavin Reilly following a penalty-box scramble. It was a goal that Reilly’s performance deserved, because the Bristol Rovers loanee hassled and harried throughout his time on the field. Chris Porter hoped to have levelled shortly afterwards, following an exchange with the lively Charlie Kirk, but was ruled offside.

Crewe’s first half possession

Home manager Michael Duff felt Cheltenham “stepped off” Crewe after scoring the opener, although the visitors did not find it easy to carve them open. Whilst on the left, inverted full-back Harry Pickering displayed a fruitfully telepathic understanding with Kirk, the equilibrium of Crewe’s attacks was not quite as smooth on the right. Daniel Powell and Perry Ng kept coming inside regardless of where the space was and, because James Jones rarely drifted outside, their play on that side was somewhat congested. Although, they deserved to draw level at the end of an even first half, when Chris Porter was played through on the left channel and the striker slotted the ball inside the near-post.

Alex’s improved press

Duff encouraged his players to be more aggressive at the start of the second period; they were to an extent, yet it was arguably Crewe’s pressing that had the strongest impact. With three centre-backs in Charlie Raglan, Ben Tozer and Jacob Greaves plus two midfielders in Conor Thomas and Jake Doyle-Hayes, the hosts tried to look after the ball in the defensive third but it was difficult to play their way through the lines due to the away side’s ferocity. When the Robins did get into forward areas, at least, they came close twice through Gavin Reilly, who fired off-target following Chris Hussey’s pull-back and Luke Varney, who could not quite get the required contact after Sean Long’s square.

Ng dismissed

Crewe played in Kirk twice in his favoured position, boring down on goal from the left-channel, but twice could not find the target in quick succession midway through the second half despite some good approach play from Ryan Wintle. Kirk, on 14 goals since the start of last season, may regret his rare moments of profligacy because, on 70 minutes, Perry Ng was sent off for a second yellow, giving Cheltenham the chance to exert pressure. While centre-back Olly Lancashire replaced Kirk in a defensive change for the visitors, speedster Alex Addai replaced Reilly to inject fresh energy into the home side’s play. Addai was unable to turn home though on 80 minutes, after wide centre-back Jacob Greaves went on a marauding run to cross; the forward was more effective as a creator, because he went on one of his many right-wing bursts with four to play before crossing but Ryan Broom could not find the contact to beat Will Jaaskelainen.

Railwaymen on track

For Crewe Alexandra, this point represents a positive step towards their promotion challenge – they can be encouraged by both the territorial advantages they shaded for the first 70 minutes, as well as the defensive resilience they displayed after Ng’s dismissal. David Artell deserves huge credit for implementing his ideas so well over the last nine months and a summer of stability has certainly helped him do that. While this was not exactly the perfect performance – they did have times where they struggled to break down their opponents – they arguably had the better of an encounter with one of their competitors onĀ  unfamiliar soil.

Robins still flying high

Although the Robins did not get the three points they were hoping for, Duff felt that the fact players in the dressing room were “slightly disappointed” was a marker of how far they have come. The game showed that not only can they compete with the better sides in this league, but they can also be unsatisfied with a point. Cheltenham can improve their work in possession, especially when they are pressed, yet they created at least as many clear cut chances as their visitors and this performance was also another indication – not unlike last week’s 2-0 loss at Plymouth Argyle – that perhaps unlike last season, they can be below their best with the ball yet still remain organised and threatening.