JERMAINE Beckford may have spared Dougie Freedman a fatal blow last night as he scored twice to keep his side in the Capital One Cup at Crewe.
The striker produced two classy finishes to kill off the plucky Railwaymen in extra time – but just as they had in the previous round against Bury, this was a victory that produced many more questions than answers for the confidence-sapped Whites.
Freedman had hoped after Saturday’s defeat at Brighton that the cup would give his players a chance to exorcise some demons. For the most part it was the manager who had a haunted look about him as the same problems started to resurface.
Crewe, propping up League One after four straight defeats, made a mockery of Wanderers’ superior quality, passing around them in the first half hour like a Premier League outfit.
Freedman chose to make eight changes to the team beaten at the weekend, giving Chris Lester his full debut in midfield and bringing in full-back Oscar Threlkeld for Hayden White on the right side of defence.
And the two youngsters endured a torrid start, targeted and bypassed by Crewe’s intricate passing game in the early stages.
Not three minutes had passed by the time Andy Lonergan picked the ball out of the back of his net, Bradden Inman cutting in past Threlkeld to curl a lovely shot into the top corner.
The youngsters were not alone, either. Shell-shocked, even Wanderers more senior players simply had no response and spent the next 15 minutes chasing shadows as the onslaught continued. Billy Waters and Chris Atkinson both forced Lonergan into action, while defender George Ray headed a corner against the crossbar.
The Whites looked devoid of ideas in possession – prompting the large contingent of travelling fans to urge their manager to “sort it out.”
It got worse before it got better.
Crewe should have been two up after Lonergan pushed away Inman’s stinging shot into the path of Vadaine Oliver, who mis-hit his volley wide of goal.
To say the Railwaymen could have been three goals up by the half hour mark was not an exaggeration.
Such was the panic at the time, Freedman called an emergency inquest on the touchline after referee Tony Harrington picked up an injury. The Scot must hardly have believed what was happening, and judging by the gesticulating going on ahead of me, he wasn’t happy with it at all.
But his meeting did the trick and Wanderers finally found a bit of rhythm as the game headed towards the break.
Jermaine Beckford miscued a volley from Conor Wilkinson’s cross and Ray was forced into a scrambling clearance at his near post after a neat interchange between Liam Trotter and Liam Feeney.
It was no real surprise when Wanderers hauled themselves level. The increasingly-influential Feeney was released on the left by Beckford and he supplied a perfect cross for Pratley to head home at the far post. Considering the start his side had made, Freedman would have been content to go in at 1-1.
But any slaps on the back could certainly go on hold. Had it not been for Lonergan’s smart goalkeeping just before the break, Crewe would have regained the advantage.
Inman powered past Threlkeld again to bring a great reaction save out of the Whites stopper – in for the injured Adam Bogdan.
Oliver then seized on a mistake by Matt Mills to bring Lonergan into the action again with a fine stop at his near post.
On the stroke of half time Trotter limped off the field to be replaced by Neil Danns, which puts the midfielder’s involvement against Leeds United in doubt.
Chances had been at a premium in the second half but perhaps eager to avoid extra time, Freedman opted to bring on Joe Mason and Chung-Yong Lee for youngsters Lester and Wilkinson with more than 20 minutes left on the clock.
A long delay for a head injury to Crewe defender Ray contributed to an incredible eight minutes of injury time. To Wanderers, it was like the Bury game all over again.
And once again they found a goal at the bitter end – Mills flicking up a cross for Beckford to volley home superbly from the angle.
But this time there was another sting in the tail. Crewe continued to push forward and a cross from the left from Greg Leigh was crashed in at the far post by substitute Marcus Haber.
Both Freedman and Lennie Lawrence appeared to exchange some angry words with the players at the final whistle after a place in the third round was so abruptly taken away.
And after their late fillip it was the League One side who exploded into extra time – Lonergan tipping another effort from Haber on to his own bar.
Chung-Yong’s influence was being felt more and more, with the Korean knitting the midfield together well.
And it was the Seoul star who picked out a great ball for Beckford to poke past the stranded keeper Garratt shortly after the second half of extra time had begun to win the game.