Match Report: Crewe Alexandra 1 Sheffield United 0

United's Michael Doyle is tackled by Crewe's Abdul Osman
United's Michael Doyle is tackled by Crewe's Abdul Osman

SHEFFIELD United manager Chris Morgan believes momentum will go a long way towards deciding who negotiates safe passage through the League One play-offs.

So he will have been disappointed to see them stumble at Crewe last night as Chuks Aneke ensured the visitors remained sixth in the table.

Aneke, on loan from Arsenal, showcased the talents which earned rave reviews from Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger by scoring the only goal early in the second-half.

England youth international Aneke attracted admiring glances from Catalan giants Barcelona before electing to remain in the capital.

His career might not have progressed quite in the manner coaching staff at the Emirates Stadium would have liked.

But the long-range effort which condemned United to a second successive defeat suggests Aneke is destined to grace much more glamorous stages than Gresty Road.

Morgan, who had described last night’s match as an opportunity for those on the periphery of his squad to force themselves into contention for next month’s two-legged semi-final, returned home with plenty to consider.

Barry Robson was the architect of United’s most promising moves, creating opportunities for Jonathan Forte and most notably Callum McFadzean during an eye-catching display.

Indeed, there were times when it seemed the Scot was intent on waging a one man war on opponents who produced little of note until the action became increasingly stretched.

With Darryl Westlake, Jordan Chappell and Joe Ironside also enjoying run-outs, Morgan ensured the penultimate fixture the league campaign served a purpose.

But he will take no pleasure from the scoreline.

Despite seeing their hopes of claiming a top two finish vanish at Portsmouth, United had travelled adamant that much still depended upon their outcome of the club’s final two games.

Nevertheless, Morgan’s team selection revealed that securing a result was not their only priority against opponents who won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earlier this month.

United, who complete the regular programme against Preston at Bramall Lane on Saturday, made five changes with McFadzean handed his full debut in the competition following a series of promising cameos from the bench.

Harry Maguire marked his return from suspension by foiling Ajay Leitch-Smith during the opening skirmishes while, at the other end, Jonathan Forte enjoyed an early opportunity after combining well with his fellow centre-forward Chris Porter.

Robson, another beneficiary of Morgan’s rotation policy, delivered the free-kick which should have seen United take a fifth minute lead.

Maguire, wrestling Crewe captain Abdul Osman out of position, judged the trajectory perfectly but his header brought the best out of goalkeeper Steve Phillips.

Forte reacted first during the ensuing melee but Neill Collins’ attempt was deflected away to safety.

Robson, the former Celtic and Middlesbrough midfielder, is the type of player United need to be firing on all cylinders if they are serious about reaching the Championship.

Technically adept but with a tough, abrasive streak, it was his tenacity which set in motion move that ended with Forte again shooting wide.

Robson continued to press his claims by releasing McFadzean midway through the opening period but Phillips parried his angled drive before smothering Porter’s effort on the rebound.

Crewe, showing only flashes of the fluency which had propelled them to that famous victory over Southend, were indebted to Phillips again soon after when he clawed Kevin McDonald’s 30 yard shot out of the air.

Thirty-five minutes had passed when George Long was called upon to make his first save.

Leitch-Smith, whose deflected attempt failed to trouble the keeper, continued to work tirelessly for little reward as United reasserted their grip on proceedings during the closing stages of a first-half predictably low on intensity.

Aneke drew a smart block from Long seconds before the interval and, four minutes after the re-start, the Crewe centre-forward made no mistake from fully 25 yards.

Robson sent Phillips scampering across his line with a sweetly struck free-kick as United looked to respond. Kevin Stewart miscalculated his angles after turning well on the edge of Long’s penalty area before only a fine save from Phillips prevented Ironside from claiming an equaliser on the stroke of full-time.