Sheffield United’s faltering League One form continued as they suffered a shock defeat at Gresty Road this afternoon.
Crewe Alexandra, who had not previously won at home since March, spent much of the contest on the back foot. But, defending with discipline and keeping their shape exceptionally well, they prevented Nigel Adkins’ side from translating possession into goals before scoring one of their own with 19 minutes remaining. Ryan Colclough, arguably their best attacking player dispatched a first time shot past the despairing Mark Howard when Chris Basham’s header fell into his path.
United introduced Conor Sammon and Stefan Scougall as they attempted to change the dynamic of a game which had seen them enjoy more than enough territory to secure all three points but, Jose Baxter apart, fail to test Ben Garratt nearly enough.
Dean Hammond nodded past the post in the 85th minute and Ben Nugent intercepted well as Sammon, lurking on the edge of the six yard box, prepared to pounce but to no avail.
United, with Harris and Ryan Flynn deployed at full-back alongside Basham at centre-half, began in encouraging fashion with Matt Done seeing a shot blocked before it hit the back of the bet before Baxter and Che Adams also went close. Marcus Haber should have done better when he sneaked into space between Basham and Neill Collins but screwed wide for Crewe. It was a warning United heeded with Baxter, who had earlier seen another effort canon back off a defender, drew a fine save from Garratt after unleashing from long-distance. United were the better side but another opportunity presented itself for Crewe midway through the opening period although, with the goal at his mercy, Callum Saunders took a fresh air shot which allowed United to clear their lines. The chances continued with Collins heading Harris’s corner over the crossbar before Haber followed suit from a deep cross. Oliver Turton and Paul Coutts received yellow cards in quick succession for fouls on Billy Sharp and Jamie Jones respectively.
Hammond pressurised his marker into a mistake when the second-half got underway but, like Haber at the other end, was eventually shepherded away to safety. The same fate befell Adams when he attempted to burrow a way through from a wide position. Adams was cautioned for diving inside the penalty area as he attempted to escape Turton’s clutches before Howard was forced to make a good reaction block when Colclough, the hosts’ most dangerous player so far, threaded a low drive through a crowd of bodies following a scrambled clearance.
Hammond showed two touches of top-flight quality as the game opened up. The first, a deft touch towards Adams, ended with the on-loan midfielder having a shot on goal which was saved before a perfectly flighted cross found Sharp at the far post. The United centre-forward, however, lost his balance as he tried to bring the ball under control and the chance was gone. Baxter was inches away from finding Done with a centre of his own. Then, the Liverpudlian saw a shot from the edge of the penalty area palmed away by Garratt. Crewe brought Adkins down from his vantage point in the stands when they took a 71st minute lead through Colclough. Inevitably, United’s play became ragged during the period immediately after his strike as they attempted to come to terms with their situation. Hammond and Scougall tried but failed to restore parity from close range.
Crewe Alexandra: Garratt, Turton, Guthrie, Ray, Nugent, Haber, Inman (Kingsley 81), Saunders (Atkinson 85), King, Jones, Colclough (Dalla Valle 88). Not used: Zizic, Cooper, Bingham, Wilson.
Sheffield United: Howard, Flynn, Basham, Collins, Harris, Coutts (Scougall 77), Hammond, Baxter, Adams, Sharp, Done (Sammon 77). Not used: Long, Freeman, K Wallace, McGahey, Campbell-Ryce.
Referee: Fred Graham (Essex),