Cheltenham Town suffered a first away League Two defeat in 11 matches as Perry Ng’s second half strike settled a closely fought encounter at The Alexandra Stadium.
The Robins were left to rue first half missed chances and despite defending well with goalkeeper Owen Evans keeping the Railwaymen at bay for long periods, Crewe edged above them in the table with a narrow win.
Manager Michael Duff made two changes to the side that started last week’s home victory over Walsall as the injured Ryan Broom was replaced by Sean Long and Alex Addai returned up front in the place of Tahvon Campbell.
Addai was making his first appearance after coming back from a three-game ban after a late sending off at Northampton Town in the final match of 2019 – having scored in back to back away matches before a brief substitute appearance against the Cobblers.
It was Addai who had the first attempt of the match, running forwards after some clever play from Conor Thomas, although goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen stopped his effort comfortably enough.
Chris Hussey then played a brilliant ball over the top for Alfie May to control but his chipped attempt was too weak to lob the goalkeeper in what was a bright start for Duff’s team.
Tom Lowery and Addai exchanged efforts at both ends before Long’s deep cross from the by-line was nearly met by Hussey but for a great interception by Alex skipper Ng.
The Robins then really should have gone a goal up after a great piece of movement from May saw him spin away from Nicky Hunt, only for a sliding Addai to miss the ball when the ball was squared to him one on one.
Daniel Powell then slammed into the side netting as the half an hour mark approached following penalty claims being waved away.
May was causing issues for the hosts and Cheltenham were finding space in behind their hosts, who had only lost three times at home all season, in what was a very open game between two sides who were level on points before the start of the game.
Robins goalkeeper Evans then made an outstanding save to deny Lowery. The midfielder looked certain to score after bursting through the middle, only for Wigan loanee Evans to push his shot past the post from close range.
With big chances missed at both ends, an entertaining opening 45 minutes finished goalless at Gresty Road.
Powell found space on the wide right early in the second half only for Evans to save again, pushing the ball away from danger with three Crewe players positioned to score. There was no lack of entertainment in Cheshire.
David Artell’s team were starting to turn the screw with their front three receiving the ball in some dangerous positions as Lowery pulled the strings and Duff made his first change after an hour as George Lloyd replaced Addai.
Their opening finally arrived in the 69th minute as skipper Ng took aim from outside the box and drilled a low shot into the bottom corner past a full stretch Evans.
Campbell replaced Sheaf and came close with a curling effort and a snapshot in the final ten minutes but it wasn’t to be for the Robins as they suffered a rare away defeat in Cheshire.
CREWE: Jaaskelainen (Gk), Ng ©, Pickering, Wintle, Powell, Kirk (Dale 78), Green, Hunt, Lowery, Anene, Nottingham.
Subs not used: Richards (Gk), Jones, Ainley, Finney, Johnson, Mbulu.
ROBINS: Evans (Gk), Hussey, Greaves, Tozer ©, Raglan, Long, Clements, Thomas, Sheaf (Campbell 69), May, Addai (Lloyd 60).
Subs not used: Lapworth (Gk), Boyle, Debayo, Doyle-Hayes, Ince.
ATTENDANCE: 4,478 (305 away)
REFEREE: S Oldham