Sheffield United’s struggles on the road continued this afternoon, with a 3-0 defeat at Crewe Alexandra.
The visitors’ team selection, which saw the more attacking Scougall preferred to McGinn in midfield, proved he had been as good as his word when it came to devising tactics while Paynter, courted by Crewe Alexandra on several occasions, spearheaded their front two.
The hardest part of course, against opponents directly above United in the table, was translating those ideas into a positive scoreline as the fact that Crewe, despite struggling for long periods, led at the break proved.
Hill’s timely intervention, with less than four minutes on the clock, prevented Leitch-Smith from testing Long’s reflexes after Anekehad threatened to burrow his way through a crowded penalty area.
Crewe’s passing became increasing stretched as the half unfolded.
Nevertheless, it was a long hopeful ball towards the latter, who dithered too long and allowed Maguire to recover, which came closest to prising apart United’s rearguard during the early exchanges.
Paynter’s physical approach had already caused Crewe problems when his presence allowed the ball to fly across Garratt’s area and reach Scougall at the far post but Evans was alert to the danger and blocked the full debutant’s shot.
From the resulting corner, taken by Baxter, Maguire appeared ready to prod home from the edge of the six yard box but an irregular bounce took the United centre-half by surprise.
Another corner, this time towards Collins at the near post, could have taken Garratt by surprise before Pogba stemmed the tide by sweeping a tempting ball across Long’s area which Flynn cleared.
Although the pitch was far from perfect, both sets of players found it tougher to get to grips with the wind which swirled around inside this stadium.
Collins did well to stop Leitch-Smith’s shot from reaching Long when Crewe sprang a 36th minute counter attack, moments after Baxter tried - but failed - to reach Flynn’s centre at the other end of the ground.
Long had to adjust his positioning when Pogba’s cross seemed destined to creep just beneath the crossbar and, sixty seconds later, ANEKE edged Crewe in front when, having beaten Coady in the tackle, he threaded a curling shot beyond both the advancing Maguire and Long.
On the stroke of half-time, ANEKE doubled Alexandra’s advantage when he thundered home a powerful drive from 15 yards after a free-kick had fallen kindly at his feet.
United went close to reducing the deficit at the start of the second-half.
First, Scougall darted through before stumbling and Baxter produced a deft piece of skill out by the corner flag which created the space to whip a low drive across the area.
However, neither Paynter nor Coady could produce the vital touch and, as the hour mark approached, only Brayford’s alertness prevented Crewe from taking a 3-0 lead.
Tootle drove forward and found Aneke who lost the ball as he tried to skip around Long. Leitch-Smith thought he had time to slide the ball home but Brayford, with the United goalkeeper stranded, sped across to block.
Having seen Aneke drill just wide, Clough made two changed in the 62nd minute with Harris and McGinn replacing Flynn and Murphy.
Now employing a back three, United saw Long thwart Pogba from an acute angle before Leitch-Smith curled wide after speeding beyond Maguire.
Porter was introduced for Paynter in the 68th minute and Brayford teed the United substitute up on the other flank soon after, but Porter headed wide.
Crewe’s Moore, on for Leitch-Smith moments earlier, should have beaten Long but chipped the ball straight into his palms when they hosts launched a 77th minute counter attack.
Clough’s side loaded their attack, with Maguire at times operating at centre-forward.
But, try as they might, a lack of quality in and around Garrett’s area meant they could not find a way through.
Instead it was Crewe who claimed the game’s third goal when, in the 90th minute, MOORE converted on the rebound after Long had foiled Inman.