TOWN’S push for a play-off place was brought to a juddering halt as a revitalised Crewe side produced a performance that belied their current lowly ranking.
Seemingly revitalised under manager Gudjon Thordarson, Alex looked anything but relegation fodder as they produced an attacking display which found its reward when they plundered two goals in two minutes early in the second half.
Town had their moments and they were justifiably on terms at the interval, but in the second period they shuddered in the face of Crewe’s onslaught and found their own promptings and probings were all too easily snuffed out by the home defence.
The visitors went into the contest without Anthony Pilkington, taken ill on the eve of the game, but the subsequent reshuffle did not seem to cause any problems.
Lukas Jutkiewicz proved one of the big plus points as the on loan Evertonian ploughed a lone but often productive furrow up front.
And another gain for Town was the return of Andy Booth for a 25-minute spell as a substitute and the striker showed he is heading back to full fitness as he posed Alex’s Dennis Lawrence a number of problems in the closing stages.
The opening phase of the game saw Town control possession but it was Crewe who prised the early openings with keeper Alex Smithies having to react smartly to deny Byron Moore and then Town’s goal led a charmed life as Billy Jones’ cross caused consternation in the Town defence and, after a couple of efforts were blocked, Michael O’Connor slammed a fizzing shot against the crossbar before John Brayford fired over from the rebound.
The woodwork was rattled again on 21 minutes when striker Clayton Donaldson’s strong break created the room for Tom Pope to take a pass and cut inside on to his left-foot but his measured shot came out of the inside of Smithies’ right-hand post.
However, Town were far from being overrun, but for all the possession they had, clear-cut chances were not readily arriving.
That changed just before the half hour when the impressive Lukas Jutkiewicz crossed and Lionel Ainsworth sent a shot just wide.
Within three minutes Town were in front with Jutkiewicz’s close control seeing him skip past a despairing tackle and produce the perfect pull-back for James Berrett to cooly slot home his first goal of the season.
The lead was short-lived and Crewe were level two minutes later when Town’s defence hesitated dealing with a cross and Moore was able to take a touch before firing in from 15 yards.
The visitors went within inches of taking a lead into the second period when a fine run and cross by Ainsworth allowed Gary Roberts to get a header in on goal but Crewe keeper John Ruddy made a fine reaction save.
Ainsworth made way for Craney early in the second half, but on 58 minutes Alex were handed a confidence boost.
Town’s Andy Butler was caught in possession as he tried to shepherd the ball away in the left back position. Pope stripped him of the ball and then powered into the Town penalty area before delivering the perfect left-foot finish across the face of Smithies.
A clearly buoyant Alex went for the jugular and within two minutes they had increased their lead as Town’s rearguard gave Donaldson too much time to hook the ball home from a free kick into the danger zone.
Andy Booth, making only his second appearance since September, joined Jutkiewicz in attack as Town sought to get back into the contest.
Reverting to a 4-4-2 format Town settled again, but were restricted to a Jim Goodwin strike on goal that went just wide.
But they could not burst Crewe’s bubble and Smithies had to produce heroics on 79 minutes as Moore was played in and the Town keeper blocked his first shot and then got back to his feet to turn the ball away again as Moore fired in from the rebound.
Town, who have rarely found Gresty Road a happy hunting ground in recent years, never looked like clawing their way back in the final ten minutes and had to concede defeat as the home side cantered home.