Crewe Alexandra 0 Sheffield United 0 FA Cup match verdict as dominant Blades pass up chance to go through

Stefan Scougall in action at Crewe
Stefan Scougall in action at Crewe

The footballing landscape has changed dramatically since these two clubs last met in FA Cup competition.

Crewe Alexandra were rubbing shoulders with the likes of New Brighton, Gateshead and Barrow in the Third Division North. Sheffield United, meanwhile, still graced the top flight.

Scroll forward nearly 67 years, however, and, from the visitors’ perspective at least, a familar pattern has emerged.

Nigel Clough’s team controlled this tie from start to finish. But, not for the first time in recent weeks, they failed to translate long periods of possession and chances created into goals.

Still, as Chris Basham acknowledged afterwards, at least another profligate display did not cost them a place in the second-round draw.

“We’re all a little bit frustrated again,” the United defender acknowledged. “We knew we did enough to win that game quite comfortably but at least we’ve got another opportunity to put that right.

“I watched Warrington go through against Exeter on the television the night before and, when you saw what it meant to those lads, it really rammed home how important the tournament is.

“They weren’t full-time professionals, they were plasters, joiners and salesmen. Just guys with normal jobs, if you like.

“So, if they can give absolutely everything, there’s no reason why we can’t. Even though the result was disppointing, we’ll give everything we’ve got to get through.

“There’s no way any of us are taking it lightly. We’re all ready to fight.”

United’s spirit and commitment is not in question. Instead, as events at Gresty Road illustrated, it is their lack of cutting edge which is beginning to cause concern.

There was no shortage of attacking talent on the pitch with Jamie Murphy, Ryan Flynn and Jose Baxter, who scored a combined total of seven goals en route to the semi-finals last season, all featuring here.

Nevertheless, with the latter missing a gilt-edged opportunity after the interval and Bob Harris seeing a long-range effort strike the crossbar, Crewe will return to Bramall Lane for a replay in eight days.

“The only thing lacking out there was that final touch,” Basham said. “That’s exactly what I’ve told the lads in the dressing room.

“We kept another clean sheet, which is pleasing, and we were on top pretty much all the way through but, for some reason, we couldn’t put the ball away.

“But I can feel everything knitting together. When we’re out there on the pitch, we’re showing that we’re a good team and, if we can get that aspect right, then someone is going to get a hiding at some point. I’ve got no doubt about that whatsoever.

“Then, when it happens once, you’ll find it happens again and again. There’s no panic from us because, in this game, if you keep on doing the right things then eventually you get to where you want to be.

“We played really well again but there’s just that last thing now, and everybody in the group has a part to play in this, that we’ve got to get right.”

Basham’s assessment is correct. United are tantalisingly close to becoming an exceptional side.

But, with injuries to Michael Higdon and Marc McNulty limiting his room for manoeuvre, Clough is hoping to enter the transfer market following Wednesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy quarter-final against Walsall.

Blackpool’s Steve Davies and Chris O’Grady of Brighton and Hove Albion are confirmed targets although, as the former England international’s decision to introduce Diego De Girolamo after recalling him from a loan spell at York City demonstrated, home-grown talent will also be asked to fill the void.

“We’re looking and we’re hoping to get something done,” Clough said. “But bringing people in is not always the answer. You’ve also got to look within.

“We all know Diego is a talent and he’s come back looking more confident and decisive on the ball. He’s been on a good run there and that’s why we turned to him rather than Chris Porter, because we wanted to see him out there.”

“Connor Dimao would also have been on the bench had he not been away with his country. The one thing these lads know is that they are going to be given the platform to show what they can do.

“It might take you a while longer to get to where you want to be with youngsters but, if they show they are good enough, then you’ll get there in the end and be all the better for it.”

Basham, one of 10 summer signings, delivered a commanding performance at the heart of defence while Louis Reed, another Redtooth Academy graduate, was a neat and tidy presence alongside Michael Doyle in midfield.

Murphy, who had an effort ruled out for offside after Baxter’s indiscretion, worked tirelessly after being tasked with leading rather than supporting the frontline.

Clough later admitted that Baxter would “have nightmares” about his miss following a move instigated by Doyle and embellished by Jamal Campbell-Ryce but Baxter too had reason to complain when, after expertly checking his run moments before the break, Flynn’s centre went awry.

“The only thing that was missing was a goal,” Clough said. “Once again, it was an excellent performance, composed and controlled all the way through.

“It’s not the lack of trying or going forward. We just need somebody with a bit of quality to put it in the back of the net for us.

“We restricted Crewe to one shot. Mark Howard had one shot to save in the whole game.”

United pressed, probed and provoked but, try as they might, could not make their dominance pay.

Flynn prodded inches wide almost straight from kick-off before James Dugdale prevented him from turning home Harris’ cross soon after. Craig Alcock also went close as United took charge but Dugdale again denied Flynn while Reed saw a goalbound shot hacked clear following the restart.

Substitute James Jones fashioned Crewe’s only opportunity of note but Howard smothered and, having seen Harris hit the woodwork from long-range, De Girolamo tried his luck from an acute angle only to see the ball slide beyond the far post.

United face Southampton in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals next month and Basham said: “I’ve never really had a run in any of them before I came here. On a personal level, that’s why I’d never treat the cups with anything but the utmost respect.

“We’ve got another crack to go through in this one and so what we do is move on, focus on the replay and look to win that.”

CREWE ALEXANDRA: Garrett 6, Guthrie 6, Davis 6, Dugdale 7, Turton 6, Atkinson*6, Cooper*** 6, Baillie, Leigh**6, Haber 6, Grant 8. Substitutes: Shearer, Inman**(82), Saunders, Waters***(85), Jones*(46) 6, Ng, Ness.

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 6, Alcock 6, Harris 7 Basham 8, Flynn** 6, Doyle 7, Murphy 6, Baxter*6, McEveley 7, Campbell-Ryce 6, Reed 6. Substitutes: Scougall*(62) 6, McGinn, McGahey, Porter, De Girolamo**(69) 6, Turner, Kennedy.