Cambridge United returned to winning ways in Sky Bet league Two with a 2-3 win over Crewe Alexandra, in a bonkers afternoon at Gresty Road.
Sam Smith gave the U’s a first half lead against the hosts who had Paul Green dismissed before half time, but reversed the scoreline after the break through Eddie Nolan and Chuma Anene forcing United into a gutsy response as Paul Lewis and a Smith from the penalty spot completing the job.
United lined up with a pair of changes as Elliott Ward made his U’s debut and Kyle Knoyle returned following a month side-lined through injury.
With Crewe in fine form United knew the task they were up against and were dealt an early warning when an in-swinging set piece was met by Crewe centre back Eddie Nolan, whose header was blocked inside the six yard box with Mitov seemingly stranded.
United were carved open shortly after as a cross field ball found Charlie Kirk wide left, before the midfielder cut a pass back into the path of Lowery, whose shot in yards of space was tame and comfortable for Mitov.
Calderwood’s men took instant advantage of the missed opportunity though as Richards chested down a long ball forward by the U’s keeper and into his strike partner Smith, who proceeded to split the Crewe defence and sit down Will Jaaskelainen with a calm finish one on one to give United the lead on ten minutes.
Mitov showed an equal amount of composure at the other end of the field minutes later to tip over a curling free kick by Harry Pickering to protect the U’s lead. A lead which Smith was fractions away from doubling with the striker not quite able to stretch his toe out far enough to meet an excellent delivery by Hannant from the left wing.
Paul Lewis failed to direct a header on target as he connected with Samir Carruthers’ cross from a free kick eight yards out, as Colin Calderwood’s men had a firm grip on the game approaching half time. And a good half improved further when the hosts were reduced to ten men with Paul Green shown a straight red card after a full blooded challenge with Carruthers.
Colin Calderwood was forced into an early second half change as Carruthers picked up a hamstring injury five minutes after the break and was replaced by George Maris in central midfield.
Dimitar Mitov produced a big stop on the hour mark as Crewe sub Chuma Anene ran clean through but couldn’t squeeze his shot beyond the Bulgarian who was quick to close down his angles.
Sam Smith, continued to have a great afternoon, and showed alertness to a short back pass which Will Jaaskelainen beat the striker to by a fraction, with any touch from the Reading loanee certain to lead to an open goal.
However, Crewe pegged United back to all square from a corner moments later with Eddie Nolan popping up unmarked six yards out to squeeze in a shot at the near post. And David Artell’s men made it a double hammer blow on 67 minutes with a sweeping, passing move that cut the U’s wide open and ended with Anene slotting in second goal for the Alex.
United picked themselves off the canvas in tremendous fashion though and within two minutes were level once more. Liam O’Neil selected a peach of delivery from his armoury to curl the ball onto the head of Paul Lewis, who this time made no mistake with an excellent finish back across goal.
And an action packed spell of the game continued, with referee David Rock awarding Luke Hannant a penalty after the left wing back darted into the Crewe box and took a tumble. Smith stepped up and sent Jaaskelainen the wrong way to restore United’s advantage.
Calderwood’s men held firm for the remaining 18 minutes plus seven of stoppage time, with the best goal scoring chance actually falling the way of Jack Roles who couldn’t quite get the better of the Crewe keeper to score a fourth on a good afternoon for United.
Crewe: Jaaskelainen, Ng, Pickering, Wintle, Lancashire, Nolan, Powell (Dale, 52 mins), Porter (Anene, 59 mins), Kirk (Ainley, 80 mins), Green, Lowery
Bookings: Green (Red)
Cambridge United: Mitov, Knoyle, Taft, Ward, Darling, Hannant, Lewis, O’Neil, Carruthers (Maris, 50 mins), Smith, Richards
Bookings: Knoyle, Darling, Hannant
Attendance: 3,568 (205)