Notts County earned a comfortable 3-0 win over Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road on Tuesday evening, moving Shaun Derry’s side up to 10th in the Sky Bet League 1 table.
Derry opted to make four changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Chesterfield at the weekend, as Mustapha Dumbuya, Garry Thompson, Shaun Harrad and new signing Stephen McLaughlin came in for Alan Smith, Curtis Thompson, Blair Adams and Zeli Ismail, with the latter three dropping to the bench and Haydn Hollis taking the captain’s armband for the game.
Having battled out a tense opening period, in which they made the crucial breakthrough in the final minute of the first half through Jake Cassidy, Notts turned the screw after the break, with a first goal of the season for Harrad and a second for Cassidy securing all three points on an overall comfortable evening for the visitors.
Notts had the better of a nervy first half, as both sides looked for the all-important opening goal, with the tension evident amongst the home supporters, who had seen their team win just once at Gresty Road in the league this season.
Early half-chances for Harrad and Noble failed to really trouble Ben Garratt in the Crewe goal, before former Notts loanee Marcus Haber was presented with a good chance for the home side in the seventh minute, pulling his header from the far post back across goal rather than at it after a good delivery from a corner by Jamie Ness.
It was end-to-end stuff at times, without a clinical end product, showcased by a good move by Harrad and Wroe to release Thompson, only for his cross to drift behind for a goalkick and then a lovely spell of passing play by Crewe ended as Billy Waters’ ball forward was overhit and fell only into the grasp of Notts keeper Roy Carroll.
A further missed chance by Haber, heading wide after a decent ball in from a freekick had eluded the outstretched arm of the out-rushing Carroll, before the first real flash point of the game came in the 16th minute.
A foul by Noble on Grant handed a freekick to Crewe just inside the Notts half, but after it was cleared on the edge of the area the ball was played down the line and Harrad went down under a challenge from Grant that the referee deemed worthy of the first yellow card of the game.
Notts looked to pile the pressure on after that, with Harrad latching on to a great flick-on by Cassidy from a lovely ball forward by Cranston, but as the angle narrowed for the striker he couldn’t find the target with his effort and it was a similar story shortly after when, having done well to create space for himself inside the area, McLaughlin got his legs caught up in trying to get the shot away.
Carroll had to be alert at the opposite end to punch clear from a well-taken freekick by Ness shortly after the half-hour mark, before Notts were surging forwards once more. Having won possession well in defence, Cranston set McLaughlin away down the left and he played it infield to Cassidy, whose shot from the edge of the area took a big deflection and was only parried by Garratt in the Crewe goal, who was then alert enough to deny the on-running Harrad on the follow-up, even though the flag had gone up for offside as the shot came in.
Another header off target by Haber, this time over the bar, preceded a further spell of pressure by Notts, with Noble playing a freekick from distance over to the far post, looking for Hollis and forcing the Crewe defence to put the ball behind for a corner, from which Garratt would come out well to punch clear for a throw-in. The Crewe keeper had to be alert again as the throw came in and was flicked across goal, snatching the ball off the head of Harrad. In the midst of all that, Crewe made their first substitution of the game, bringing on Adam Dugdale for George Ray.
Notts fired another warning shot to their hosts shortly before they finally took the lead in the game, with Cassidy flashing the ball across the face of goal, just evading Noble and Harrad in the area, but it was only a temporary let-off for the home side.
With just a minute of the half remaining, Cassidy slotted home from close range after the ball had been pulled back across goal to him brilliantly by Thompson, following some great build-up play involving Cranston and Noble, who had been instrumental in so much of Notts’ attacking play throughout the opening half.
Carroll had to be alert to make a smart double save at his near post moments later, as Crewe pushed forward looking to get straight back on level terms, but it was Notts who had the final chance of the half as Thompson struggled to get a clean connection to his shot after the ball had been played through to him in a dangerous position in the area by Noble.
HT: Crewe Alexandra 0 Notts County 1
Having given themselves the comfort of a lead going into the break, Notts came out looking to build on their advantage early in the second half, with Harrad winning a freekick in a dangerous position that he would take himself two minutes after the break, but he drilled his effort narrowly over the bar.
There was another chance for Haber then when his strike partner Vadaine Oliver headed the ball on in the 49th minute and although it wasn’t on target it did fall towards the big Canadian, but he couldn’t shape himself to make any sort of contact and could only watch as the ball rolled agonisingly past him and behind for a goalkick.
It was a rare moment of worry for Notts and they would make life even more comfortable for themselves three minutes later, when Harrad fired home from close range, with the help of a deflection, after good work by McLaughlin to feed the ball into the danger zone.
Even after doubling their lead, Notts continued to press forwards and when Thompson was given space to run at goal he will have been disappointed with his shot, when it came, as it was always rising and flew over the bar. This was then emulated from the opposite flank when McLaughlin broke towards goal but also failed to find the target with his effort from distance.
The frustrations of the home crowd, which they had made vocally evident on the night, were then compounded when their side failed to capitalise on a slip by Hollis on the edge of the area that left them through two-on-one, but winning only a corner, which would come to nothing.
And Crewe would be left ruing that missed opportunity minutes later, when a lovely break upfield down the left by Notts saw McLaughlin bring the ball to the byline before cutting it back across the face of goal and presenting Cassidy with a comfortable tap-in for his second of the game.
A booking for Thompson for a foul on Ness on the halfway line, bringing an abrupt halt to a Crewe break, was the only negative for Notts, as Crewe failed to break them down, despite making their final two changes with 21 minutes to go, bringing on Oliver Turton and Chris Atkinson for Jon Guthrie and Ness.
The third and final booking of the game came in the 76th minute, when Atkinson clattered into Cranston, before Notts made their first substitution of the game, bringing on Ronan Murray for Harrad and following this up five minutes from time with the introduction of Zeli Ismail for Thompson.
Indeed, the only action of note in the final minutes came when a tame effort from distance by Grant was greeted by ironic cheers from the home crowd as it dribbled along the ground into the waiting hands of Carroll.
All-in-all it was a comfortable win for Notts that will have pleased the near 300 travelling supporters, who gave their side great backing through the entire game from the Ice Cream Van Stand.
FT: Crewe Alexandra 0 Notts County 3