Plymouth Argyle’s early lead was not enough to beat a spirited Crewe Alexandra at Home Park on Saturday as the midtable Sky Bet League One clash ended in a 1-1 draw.

Story of the match

First half

Plymouth set the tempo from the off, utilising their rapid wingers in Panutche Camara and Ryan Hardie. Fast passing down either flank stretched the Crewe defence, which the Pilgrims explored with confidence.

Hardie had the first shot on goal within a minute. Slipped in down the left-hand side, the Scotsman opened his body for a right-footed shot. Crewe ‘keeper David Richards gathered comfortably.

It set something of a precedent as the hosts plundered the four resilient Alexandra defenders. Frustration grew among the visiting ranks, who were unable to settle into the bitter conditions on the south coast.

After 11 minutes, visiting defender Luke Offord put an end to a tricky run from Conor Grant in the penalty area. Referee Charles Breakspear pointed to the spot without hesitation, and there was little protestation from anyone in red. High-flying Welshman Luke Jephcott stepped up to the plate and sent Richards the wrong way as he coolly slotted the spot-kick into the bottom-right corner.

Argyle’s dominance let up a little as Crewe brought themselves up to pace. Restricted in their movement by an organised back three, the Railwaymen resorted to counterattacking play to challenge the Plymouth goal.

The best chance of the half for the visitors fell to Oli Finney after half an hour. The 23-year-old was slipped in neatly for a one-on-one opportunity with home ‘keeper Michael Cooper, but he seemed torn between a shot and a square pass as he bore down on goal and scuffed his shot safely into Cooper’s grateful grasp.

Scared by the near-miss, Ryan Lowe’s side turned on the style once more. Finding their rhythm back at the pace that had put them in front, Argyle saw out the opening period with 10 minutes of brutal pressure which could have yielded a goal.

On 38 minutes, Jephcott was fed a lovely ball on the edge of the area by Camara. The Welshman lashed a first-time shot on goal, forcing Richards to tip beyond the far post. Moments later, smart work between Tyrese Fornah and Danny Mayor tucked deep into the corner of the pitch afforded Grant a sight on goal. Striking with venom through a crowd of bodies, the ex-Alexandra midfielder was denied by a sublime reflex save to keep the advantage at the break down to one.

Second half

After a breathless first half, the latter period started with significantly less intensity. The opening 10 minutes were end-to-end, but Plymouth always looked on top. Grant first fired a dangerous ball across the face of goal in the 54th minute. The scrambling cavalry of Hardie and Jephcott arrived on the scene moments too late and the chance went begging, much to the relief of Richards in the Crewe goal.

Two minutes later Argyle chased forward again. Mayor received the ball wide on the left and danced past his marker before cutting a delivery back across the box. Once more, no green shirt could get on the end of it.

The Pilgrims saw a good opportunity squandered on the hour mark. Grant worked space on the edge of the area and rifled a low effort, which Richards could only parry. The rebound dropped to Camara, whose weak stab at goal through traffic was grabbed by the 27-year-old goalkeeper.

It was the visitors who drew first blood in the second half, albeit against the run of play. Frenchman Mikael Mandron received the ball on the edge of the box and slipped in Finney by way of a deflected pass. This time, the 23-year-old made no mistake as he poked home with the outside of his boot.

Suddenly it was Crewe who were in control of the tie. Argyle sat back and tightened up as the visitors enjoyed their brightest spell of the match. Clever creation from Mandron and Charlie Kirk caused some issues for the three Plymouth defenders, who looked to intervention from their attacking-minded colleagues to stay level.

Plymouth came close to restoring their advantage with 10 minutes left to play. The ball was rolled for Camara by Grant, and the Bissau-Guinean unleashed a howitzer from the edge of the box. Richards, who had been nurturing an injury from five minutes prior, stretched well to palm clear.

As the fourth official displayed the additional minutes, Argyle survived a frightful moment when ‘keeper Cooper came out to punch clear a routine ball and hit nothing but air. Owen Dale reacted first for Alexandra and poked the ball goalwards. Fortunately for the hosts, Kell Watts was ideally placed on the line to smash Plymouth out of danger.

Moments later, Crewe broke again. Camara appeared behind the runner to bring him down and thwart a potential winner. The 23-year-old was given his marching orders after receiving his second yellow card of the afternoon.

Crewe’s second-half strike sees their unbeaten run increase to eight, although they have lost traction on their playoff charge as results elsewhere bring the gap up to four points. Argyle are also unmoved in the standings.

Takeaway from the match

Never let the guests settle

Argyle started extremely well. Fast in their thinking and their movement, they brought the game to Crewe from the off. After taking the lead, however, the Pilgrims’ intensity dropped and they allowed Alexandra to form an offensive of their own. The once-panicked visitors could now play at their pace, and were afforded the space to do so.

The Railwaymen clawed their way back into proceedings and drew level after dominating much of the second half – a stark contrast to the story of the first.

Man of the match

David Richards – Crewe Alexandra

The Railwaymen have a lot to thank the 27-year-old for after a series of sublime saves. Keeping Argyle’s ferocious firepower down to a one-goal advantage in the first half, the second was devoted to protecting the point his side had earned down the opposite end. Richards was excellent in his positioning and his reflexes.