Stevenage put in a spirited performance at Gresty Road to end a run of three defeats with a quick-fire double confirming the victory.
Former Boro man Chuks Aneke gave Crewe the lead just after the half hour mark with a low shot from inside the area that was set up by Mathias Pogba, however Stevenage fans will feel aggrieved that a foul wasn’t given for what looked like a push on Darius Charles in the build-up.
Two goals in as many minutes didn’t only haul Stevenage back into the game, but gave them the lead. Lucas Akins had the first but he would be thanking Anthony Grant for creating the opportunity. The central midfielders touch and determination allowed the chance to put the ball across the face of goal, leaving the former Tranmere Rovers man with the task of poking it over the line under pressure.
Marcus Haber netted a solo effort for his side’s second after controlling a good pass brilliantly and taking on his defender, he left him in his wake before finishing cooly under the ‘keeper.
The end of the game was mixed with chances to extend the lead, but also the need for resilient defending in a professional away performance.
Smith stuck with the same back five that began the game at Walsall, with Charles in the centre of defence alongside Mark Roberts, Miguel Comminges on the left and David Gray on the right – all in front of Steve Arnold’s goal. In what began as a four-man midfield, Greg Tansey started the game on the right. James Dunne and Grant sat in the middle and Filipe Morais took the left flank, eventual goal scorer Akins partnered Haber in attack. Both loan signings from earlier in the week, Steve Beleck and Sam Hoskins, were named amongst the substitutes.
Boro began the game with more pace about there play and had a corner inside five minutes, sent to the back post it found the head of an under-pressure Haber but his cushioned touch back into the middle evaded Charles and the clearance was made.
In general, the attacks had more menace than had been seen in previous weeks, and in particular David Gray was getting up his wing nicely. Twice he surged towards the box and both times got a cross away but neither yielded an opener.
Crewe came close on 22 minutes; Pogba received the ball on the right and forced Comminges back before crossing low into the area and he almost found a slice of luck when it hit Roberts’ leg and bounced towards goal, Arnold was there to stop it though.
The tide began to turn in the home side’s favour soon after; Morais saw his name go into the book after going to ground under a challenge from Luke Murphy, rather than win a free kick he was shown a yellow card for diving. A moment later Gray followed the same fate for a hard challenge in the middle of the park and the resulting ball into the Stevenage area produced the game’s first goal.
It was diagonal and sent towards Pogba on the right, he appeared to push Charles to bring it down but nothing was given as the number 9 pulled it back for Aneke in the box, who hammered it through the crowd and left Arnold without a chance.
Tansey came close a leveler for his side with what would have been a trademark free kick, but it clipped the top of the crossbar on it’s way into the stand behind the goal. Stevenage were doing all they could to claw themselves back into the game before the break but couldn’t make the breakthrough.
There were no changes during the break and in the opening five minutes of the second period Akins came closest after running well past his marker and firing from a tight angle but Steve Phillips saved with relative ease.
Minutes later an equaliser did come – the manner in which it was scrambled over the line would have reminded Boro fans of the last goal the side scored at Gresty Road in our League Two days. A free kick was curled into the Crewe penalty area and headed into the air, Grant pulled it down and dribbled well to take two defenders out of the game and reach the by-line. He drilled the ball low into the penalty area and Akins looked to get the final touch that sent it over the line to draw Stevenage level.
A quick turnaround meant that Boro were in the lead minutes later as a result of some brilliant architecture from Haber. The tall striker latched onto a through ball and beat Mark Ellis at the back with a great first touch, through on goal he sublimely slotted the ball under Phillips and into the back of the net before wheeling away in celebration.
Suddenly Stevenage were a new side, life had been breathed into them and the attacks continued. Tansey had the ‘keeper scrambling twice with shots from the edge of the box, Akins was striding forward full of confidence and Steve Beleck came on for Morais with Smith’s first change. A third goal would open up a vital cushion.
Beleck showed promise after chasing down a ball into the channel behind Matt Tootle and controlling it well, he turned to look up and delivered a decent ball into the box for Haber but Ellis challenged well in the air. Soon after Tanesy fired wide after finding himself in space on the edge of the box as Stevenage continued to press.
Hearts were in mouths on 87 minutes when a quick switch of play caught Stevenage off-guard, Comminges couldn’t prevent a ball into the area and when Pogba stepped over it, it looked destined to find substitute Max Clayton. Roberts had other ideas though, and against his former club he intercepted and cleared.
Four minutes were added onto the tie and the defence were holding firm, a break away allowed Haber and Grant to hold the ball by the corner flag but a misplaced pass gave possession back to a Crewe side flooding forward. Dunne pulled the runner down and was rightly given a booking, the home side had one last chance to get it into the box and cause problems – and how they nearly did. The ball was floated in, headed on backwards and met by another Crewe body, the crowd draw breathe but his effort was wide. All that there was time for was a substitution, Luke Freeman coming on for Haber, but the full time whistle immediately followed and Boro had the victory.
Stevenage (4-4-2): Arnold; Gray (N’Gala 76), Roberts, Charles, Comminges; Tansey, Dunne, Grant, Morais (Beleck 62); Akins, Haber
Unused Subs: Day, Hills, Freeman, Hoskins, Shroot
Att: 4262 (146 away)