The Hatters saw out January by making the short trip within Cheshire for their rearranged meeting with Crewe, and returning north to SK3 with a deserved point.
In what was a first League Two contest at Gresty Road between the two sides since the last day of April 2011 – when a two-goal Crewe victory had consigned County to play non-league football in the (then) Blue Square Premier – the hosts took a late first-half lead, but the Hatters equalised through Kyle Wootton shortly after the break to earn the draw that lifted them back up into 10th place, and three points away from the play-off positions.
A week and a half after the originally-scheduled Saturday afternoon match had been postponed due to frost, County took to the field under the lights, and on a relatively mild evening, in CW2, showing two changes from the line-up that had started at AFC Wimbledon three days previously. Captain Paddy Madden was recalled and Chris Hussey made his first start since late November – respectively replacing Myles Hippolyte and Ryan Rydel, who were both named among the substitutes.
With just under four minutes on the clock, Crewe fashioned an early chance as Rio Adebisi chipped from the left for Bassala Sambou to glance a header into the arms of Ben Hinchliffe. And seven minutes later, Daniel Agyei’s delivery from the opposite flank found recent arrival from Tranmere, Elliott Nevitt, whose headed effort took a deflection off Kyle Knoyle past the far upright.
A Hatter also used his head by way of County’s first attempt, although Wootton was a little way wide of the right post after connecting with Akil Wright’s cross. And just ahead of the half-hour, Callum Camps went a good deal closer as he grazed the other upright with a low, fizzing shot from the edge of the box.
Will Collar was next to try his luck with a looping header from the 18-yard line, after spotting David Richards out of goal – only for the home ‘keeper to back-track and catch the effort – before the hosts struck the woodwork at the other end, with Nevitt hitting the near post at close range after Sambou had stung Hinchliffe’s hands with a shot from the left.
The Alex were finishing the half strongly, and went ahead with a couple of minutes of it remaining. A Regan Griffiths corner from the right was flicked on at the near post by skipper Rod McDonald to Connor O’Riordan, who fired home from the far side of the six-yard area for his first goal in professional football.
HALF-TIME: Crewe 1 (O’Riordan, 43), County 0.
Just as the first half ended with a goal, so the second half began with one, on this occasion putting the Hatters back on level terms three minutes following the resumption – as Wootton played a neat one-two with Collar, before running on to slot calmly past Richards.
The hosts looked to get their noses in front again through the lively Nevitt, whose half-volley was turned around the right post by Hinchliffe. And when Griffiths crossed from the left, County’s Number One smothered well – with Agyei and Kelvin Mellor threatening to pounce.
County brought on Hippolyte and Rydel in an attempt to force the pace with a dozen minutes to go – although it was a defender who struck what was almost a winning shot, as Ryan Johnson unleashed his pile-driver narrowly shy of the left post just before added time.
FULL-TIME: Crewe 1 (O’Riordan, 43), County 1 (Wootton, 48).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Byrne, R. Johnson; Knoyle, Camps (Hippolyte, 78), Croasdale, Collar, Hussey (Rydel, 78); Madden (Capt.), Wootton.
Unused Subs: Jaros, Evans, Stretton, MacDonald, Lewis.
Booked: Rydel, R. Johnson.
Attendance: 5,877 (2,201 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.