Burton Albion are still searching for that elusive first win of 2012 after an entertaining game at Gresty Road saw Albion slip to a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Railwaymen. After slipping two goals down early in the second half Callum Driver notched his first senior goal within two minutes of Crewe scoring and when the hosts made it 3-1 with three minutes to go it looked game over until Calvin Zola scored in the final minute to reduce the arrears again but despite pressing in stoppage time the Brewers could not find an equaliser and now return to the Pirelli in seartch of that first win of the year.
Brewers boss sprung something of a surprise with his starting line-up for Albion's first game in over a fortnight due to the wintry weather. The surprise was the inclusion of young midfielder Jack Dyer in a holding midfield role to cover for the absence through injury of loan signing Lee Lucas. The other enforced changed from the last game against Oxford United saw former Crewe man Danny Blanchett restored to the left back role with Aaron Webster missing with a hamstring injury. Calvin Zola also made his first return to Gresty Road following his move to the Brewers at the end of last season. The Brewers were looking for their first win at Crewe since promotion to the Football League and also their first three points of 2012.
Albion started brightly and almost profited from some sloppy defending as early as the third minute. Ryan Austin's crossfield ball was only half cut out by the Crewe defence and Jacques Maghoma seized on the loose ball to burst forward but shoot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
Burton continued to look the more settled side and Andres Gurrieri was denied his first goal for the club by a near post deflection as Calvin Zola teased left back Carl Martin before putting in a teasing low cross.
Crewe's first serious effort came in the 11th minute as Nick Powell turned Ryan Austin far too easily before striding forwards and hitting a dipping effort just over the crossbar. Powell then went tumbling in the penalty area on 21 minutes as he tried to go past Austin but referee Phil Gibbs waved away the shouts for a penalty against the ex-Crewe defender.
John McGrath was the first player to see a yellow card when he upended Ashley Westwood and it almost cost Albion a goal as the free kick was hoisted into the box where Harry Davis nodded it down and only a superb sprawling stop from Ross Atkins denied Shaun Miller what looked a certain goal. The near miss visibly lifted the home side and they almost opened the scoring moments later as Atkins only half cleared at full stretch and Miller was denied by Adam Bolder on the line as the keeper tried to recover his position.
Albion's goal only led a charmed life for a short while longer as Crewe opened the scoring in the 29th minute. Powell continued to look lively and flicked a ball on that found Danny SHELLEY in loads of space just inside the box and he was able to turn and rifle in a shot low to Ross Atkins right.
Calvin Zola almost immediately tried to get the Brewers back on level terms but his curling effort flew wide of the post. Jacques Maghoma drilled an effort into the side netting before Ross Atkins had to make another good save as Albion were carved open allowing Byron Moore to cut inside and get a shot away from inside the box.
Crewe were brimming with confidence and Ashley Westwood tried his luck from at least twenty five yards but with Atkins at full stretch the ball went wide of the near post.
As the first half ticked into stoppage time Albion spurned a great chance to equalise. A burst of pace took Jacques Maghoma away down the right and he was able to squeeze the ball through to Adam Bolder who produced a fine piece of skill to beat his man and work room for a cross that Calvin Zola could not quite make clean contact with andf as the ball trickled wide of the post the chance was gone.
Half time: Crewe Alexandra 1-0 Burton Albion
Despite replacing attacker Byron Moore with a defender, Oliver Turton, it was Crewe who threatened first after the break. Powell was allowed to make a run into the box but having driven deep into the Albion penalty area his low right foot effort lacked the power to sufficiently trouble Ross Atkins.
With Calvin Zola looking somewhat isolated Paul Peschisolido made a change with Justin Richards coming on for Andres Gurrieri but within three minutes Albion found themselves two goals down as Crewe counter attacked to stunning effect. Danny Shelley eventually found space on the right side of the area and pulled the ball back to the edge of the box where Ashley WESTWOOD made no mistake with a rasping drive.
The hosts two goal lead lasted barely two minutes as Albion got themselves back into the game on 57 minutes. Adam Bolder played a crossfield pass that left back Carl Martin failed to cut out and Callum DRIVER was right behind him to take a touch and drill the ball low beyond Steve Phillips for his first senior goal.
A second change for the Brewers on 65 minutes saw Chris Palmer replace John McGrath with Albion pressing for an equaliser. Zola was desperate to score against his former club and twice from the right side of the box he tried to find the net only to be denied by deflections, the second of which skimmed the outside of the post after hitting James Tunnicliffe on its way through.
Zola wasted an even better chance to score with just fifteen minutes to go. Justin Richards plkayed Danny Blanchett in for an overlap down the left. The scene was set for Zola as he was picked out in the centre but after taking one touch too many in the centre he failed to hit the target from twelve yards out. Moments later Albion's third substitute, Cleveland Taylor was inches away from connecting with a deflected shot that just eluded him at the far post.
Albion were certainly looking strong for an equaliser and Driver almost doubled his tally for the evening with a dipping angled shot from distance that did not miss the far post by much as it passed.
It looked like game over when Luke MURPHY profited from Albion squandering possesion to fire across Atkins into the far corner on 87 minutes but ZOLA set up a grandstand finish when he fired in off the post from what looked an impossible angle after holding off his marker.
CREWE: Phillips, Tootle, Davis, Westwood, Murphy, Miller, Moore (Turton, 46), Shelley, Martin, Powell, Tunnicliffe. Substitutes: Martin, Mellor, Clayton, Oswell.
ALBION: Atkins; Driver, Stanton, Austin, Blanchett; Dyer; Bolder, McGrath (Palmer, 65); Gurrieri (Richards, 52) , Zola, Maghoma (Taylor, 76). Substitutes: James, Corbett, Palmer, Taylor.
Referee: Mr. P.Gibbs (West Midlands)
GOALS: Crewe - Shelley (29), Westwood (55), Murphy (87); Albion - Driver (57), Zola (90)
Attendance: 3,157 (241 away)