Football hasn’t been kind to me since the turn of the year. My opening blog post came from Salford City where Wrexham were comfortably beaten and things didn’t pick up in the following games. Consecutive defeats to Dover and Bromley left me reeling for a change. And with the Reds in FA Trophy action, it provided myself – and some of the Wrexham players – a chance to take a break from the recent, gruelling cluster of National League football.
There were two local groundhopping choices that caught my eye: both Hereford and Crewe were playing at home against interesting opposition. The Bulls were welcoming holders Brackley Town in the FA Trophy with ex-Wrexham manager Kevin Wilkin in charge of the visitors. Meanwhile, Crewe were hosting Newport County in League Two.
The Exiles travelled to Cheshire fresh off another famous FA Cup run that saw them beat us in a replay and then giant-kill Leicester in the next round. The prospect of ticking another ground off the 92 swayed my decision, particularly as there were no other eye-catching games at mid-table Crewe for the remainder of the season. Plus, the chance of seeing Newport lose further ground in their play-off hunt appealed to the petty, revenge-fuelled fan I am.
So the girlfriend and I made the short journey north on train, before making an even quicker hop from Crewe station to the Railwaymen’s home ground around the corner.
Ng v Semenyo
Crewe dominated a first half that I really enjoyed. Their midfield superiority helped set up several chances for them to be out of sight by the break but only scored once through Jordan Bowery. County’s greatest threat came from their on-loan forward Antoine Semenyo, who looked to dribble through the Crewe defence whenever he had the ball.
If it weren’t for Alex right-back Perry Ng, Newport might have capitalised on Crewe failing to convert their chances. Ng stood firm whenever Semenyo tried to get past him and managed to produce some great challenges to stop his progress when he did. It was a fascinating battle and led to Semenyo switching flanks towards the end of the half in order to find more joy.
With Semenyo having more of a free role in the second half – and County putting Tyreeq Bakinson on in midfield – an equaliser eventually arrived that kick-started a dramatic final half an hour. Semenyo got his goal from Bakinson’s pass over the Crewe defence, teeing himself up with his first touch and finding the bottom corner.
Newport goalie Joe Day then kept his team level with a great save from a long-range shot before Padraig Amond took advantage of some horrible ‘keeping from Day’s counterpart Ben Garratt. Amond poked the ball home following Garratt’s poor punches and raced towards the County fans with a remarkable turnaround installed and 15 minutes left on the clock.
County just had to slow the game down but they fuelled more frenzy by putting in some heavy, late tackles. Semenyo was very close to getting a red card and was cautiously subbed, while Robbie Willmott gave a free-kick away in a dangerous position. Crewe won a penalty from the resulting set-piece and Chris Porter rolled the ball down the middle for his fifth goal in as many games – three of which have come from the spot.
Neither team seemed satisfied with a point and the match became so open. The board showed six minutes were to be added on and Crewe charged forward. Their opponents were looking to counter on the break but it proved to be the wrong tactic. Instead of keeping their shape and organisation, Newport wilted in an almighty goalmouth scramble…
A handball shout looked like a second penalty would be given. Everyone froze but Crewe kept things alive with a header back across goal. Bodies were thrown at the ball. A deflection was cleared off the line. Day made a save from point-blank range. Another strong penalty appeal went in. Then Bowery gave the ball to Callum Ainley who swept in the winner.
It was an insane finish. Everyone went mad, including myself, and I loved absolutely all of it.
Subdued stands and angry fans
As you’d expect after a late winner, the atmosphere around us at full-time was crazy. However, for long periods of the game, the ground felt quite flat. Taking the huge main stand out of the picture, I would have said the Alexandra Stadium was home to a non-league club rather than a Football League one.
I knew before the game that a contest between two fourth division teams positioned in mid-table wouldn’t pull in much of a crowd. But just over 3,000 was a bit of a shock. I guess I’d always seen the main stand whenever I pulled into Crewe station and imagined the team were more heavily-backed.
Credit to those in the prominently-flagged Gresty Road End, though, they backed the Alex for the whole game. I was especially pleased for the fan near us who looked like Ben Affleck wearing a drawstring bag. He was so angry at Crewe’s capitulation even at 2-2. But after the winner went in, his eyes looked less fiery and his wife kept hold of his bag, presumably because he lobbed it in the celebrations.
Taking the short walk back to the station at full-time, I was so glad I went to the game. Football hadn’t been that exciting for a long time. Wrexham, unfortunately, don’t tend to score late goals and seeing a grandstand finish like the one in Crewe gave me respite from my unsatisfactory footballing year so far. I know things won’t be that exciting every weekend but it’s always worth a gamble.