Pre-season friendly match reportTown’s first team were defeated by a single goal at the Alexandra Stadium in their latest pre-season game and although there were good things to see in the latest 90 minutes for the Terriers, there was also plenty for Simon Grayson’s side to build on ahead of the Championship season.
Town’s senior players extended their pre-season minutes on the pitch, with many players stepping up to a full hour, and there was evidence that the summer signings are gelling with their new teammates as each game progresses.
However, the Terriers failed to properly test the home goalkeeper on a regular basis throughout the game and the level of ball retention was below what was on display in Scotland last weekend.
Simon Grayson named an attack-minded and strong starting line-up for the game against the npower League 1 new boys; the starting 4-4-2 featured Danny Ward and Lee Novak flanking strikers Lee Novak and Sean Scannell.
Adding balance to that flair was new boy Keith Southern, who was making his debut for the Terriers alongside Oliver Norwood. Throughout the half he showed what a strong physical presence he will be in the engine room this season, with some stern challenges breaking up play nicely.
Despite that it was the hosts who started very brightly and when they took the lead in the 17th minute it was fully deserved. Town skipper Peter Clarke had blocked an early shot over the bar from Mathias Pogba, who was a real powerhouse up front for the Railwaymen, and Joel Lynch had showcased some of the strong tackling that we’d seen at Hibernian the previous weekend.
However, Crewe skipper Ashley Westwood – after an earlier sighter – made the most of a 17th minute free-kick. A slightly over-zealous tackle from Lynch gave Westwood the chance to swing the ball into the danger zone and home centre back Adam Dugdale outmuscled Town skipper Clarke before volleying powerfully home, giving Alex Smithies absolutely no chance.
Until then Scannell had been Town’s brightest spark and that continued as Simon Grayson’s side searched for an equaliser. Four minutes after the opener a Danny Ward corner fell to the former Crystal Palace man on the edge of the box, but his powerful drive was deflected over the bar by a defender.
Scannell then led a breakaway attack from a Crewe corner just before the half hour mark. He advanced into the opposition half before finding Norwood wide on the right, but the midfielder’s low delivery across the face of goal was just beyond the reach of Rhodes in the middle.
Novak and Scannell soon swapped to play in their more orthodox positions and that heralded a final ten minutes of the half where Town bossed possession. With five minutes left the equaliser looked to have come when Novak picked out Jack Hunt’s overlap on the right, with his cross falling to Jordan – but the Scotland international’s shot was blocked by goalscorer Dugdale on the line.
Only moments later Danny Ward breezed past full back Davis to deliver another low ball into the six yard box, but in a carbon copy of the earlier chance the ball whizzed past the outstretched foot of Rhodes.
Despite that late dominance Peter Clarke had to be alert to clear Pogba’s downward header from underneath Smithies’ crossbar following another dangerous set-piece from Westwood.
Town remained unchanged for the start of the second half, although the wingers had switched sides, but the following 45 minutes failed to recapture the fluency of the first due to the almost inevitable flurry of substitutions. Crewe’s best chance fell to the impressive Pogba after substitute Brendon Daniels slid an excellent through ball inside Jack Hunt to send him clear, but his finishing was less impressive than his hold-up play and he prodded well wide.
Town’s first subs on the hour mark prompted a change to 4-3-3 and new boy Southern went inches away from opening his account for the Club, but his glancing header fell from Adam Clayton’s brilliant left-sided cross was just wide of target.
The trio of Novak, Alan Lee and Kallum Higginbotham led the line for the final quarter but the pressure that you would expect to see on Crewe’s goal didn’t come and the Alex secured a morale-boosting pre-season win after a close encounter.
Town’s team (4-4-2):
Alex Smithies (Ian Bennett 60); Paul Dixon (Calum Woods 60), Peter Clarke (c) (Antony Kay 74), Joel Lynch (Tom Clarke 65), Jack Hunt; Danny Ward (Adam Clayton 60), Oliver Norwood (Oscar Gobern 60), Keith Southern (Anton Robinson 74), Lee Novak; Sean Scannell (Alan Lee 74), Jordan Rhodes (Kallum Higginbotham 74)