Crewe Alexandra 0 Tranmere Rovers 0: Eagerly-anticipated clash ends in stalemate and two sides cancel each other out
MEETINGS between Crewe Alexandra and Tranmere don’t usually generate the kind of anticipation that preceded Saturday’s Gresty Road encounter.
The visit of the free-scoring League One leaders to the club with the Midas touch in developing young talent looked like the most attractive fixture on the domestic calendar on a day when the Premier League and Championship took a break for internationals.
Talent scouts from no fewer than 17 Premier League clubs and a dozen more from the Championship took the opportunity to check on the latest crop of young prospects from the Crewe Academy.
On the opposite side of the ground from the scouts, 1,358 travelling fans packed into the sweltering heat of the Ice Cream Van Stand in the hope of seeing Tranmere continue their exciting start to the campaign.
As it was everyone – scouts, supporters, managers and players – went home slightly disappointed after witnessing a contest that was not so much a showcase for the best the division can offer but a fairly typical representation of League One football. Both Crewe and Tranmere proved more adept at countering each other’s virtues than finding their most creative form. Defenders took the honours, keeping clear-cut scoring opportunities to a premium.
Tranmere centre-backs Ash Taylor and Ben Gibson were particularly effective in dealing with the threat of Ajay Leitch-Smith and Max Clayton, an 18-year-old already being linked to top-flight clubs.
The Premier League giants who had representatives in the main stand included Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United, who agreed to pay up to £6 million for Crewe’s 18-year-old Nick Powell in July.
Aston Villa, who last month agreed a £2million package for Ashley Westwood, were also there.
The scouts might also have noted that Tranmere have a centre-back in Ash Taylor, a 22-year-old with more than 100 League One appearances behind him, who has good experience at a young age and a defensive partner, Ben Gibson, 19, who looks a good prospect and a shrewd loan signing from Middlesbrough.
Going forward, Rovers could not produce the rapier thrusts which cut open Colchester United’s resistance in their previous League One outing, in part because the Crewe defenders were a little more robust and disciplined and in part because Tranmere’s creative fires were not burning quite so brightly this time out.
Skipper James Wallace dropped a little below the impressively high standards he has set himself this season while Andy Robinson’s body language betrayed his frustration at being unable to find a killer pass all afternoon.
Tranmere had a marginally greater share of possession and pressure but not enough to earn them the right to claim victory. The final result was a fair one.
Not that either manager was upset about the outcome.
Tranmere had the consolation of a third clean sheet in five unbeaten games in the league.
Taylor’s strong showing was a special bonus, because his fitness had been in doubt after he suffered a thigh injury in the Capital One Cup tie at Aston Villa. Roman Golobart had to settle for a place on the substitutes bench.
Tranmere made a priority out of trying to harry Crewe out of their stride in the opening 25 minutes, eager to ensure the home team could not build up the passing rhythm that can help them to dominate games on a good day. The visitors succeeded, although sometimes at the expense of their own football.
An early goal might have given either side an important injection of confidence and both threatened to snatch one. Cassidy, running onto a return pass into the box from Abdulai Bell-Baggie in the fourth minute, failed to make a clean connection with his first-time shot and sent it wide. A minute later it was Crewe’s turn when Ajay Leitch-Smith’s run setup Harry Bunn, whose low shot took a deflection wide of the near post.
Thereafter the moments of excitement were thinly scattered.
Clayton gave us a glimpse of the threat he can pose by finding the space between Tranmere’s midfielders and the centre-backs in the 25th minute, but fired high over the bar and immediately displayed his annoyance with himself.
Gibson made a very good block tackle when Bunn found a shooting position on 39 minutes while at the other end, dangerous low balls whipped across the face of goal, first by Robinson and then by Wallace, failed to find a Tranmere foot.
Rovers kept the home side pinned in their own half for long periods of the second half. Robinson created the game’s best opening for striker Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro on 75 minutes with a pass played through the inside left channel.
The angle was tight and the striker, attempting to beat the advancing goalkeeper Alan Martin with a flick, succeeded in hitting the ball against the goalkeeper’s body.
Two minutes later Akpa Akpro did well to hook the ball back from the dead-ball line and Cassidy nodded it over the bar.
At the other end for Williams saved a 25-yard free-kick from Gregor Robertson in some comfort and was grateful to see substitute Matt Tootle fail to get the touch on a low cross from Brendon Daniels.
Crewe boss Steve Davis is hopeful Bunn, stretchered off after an accidental collision with Fon Williams, has not sustained any serious damage to his knee.