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Report: Bristol City 3-0 Crewe Alexandra

A dominant Bristol City display was rewarded with a comfortable return to winning ways against Crewe Alexandra at Ashton Gate.

The Sky Bet League One leaders were never tested from start to finish, scoring twice in the space of 11 first-half minutes to pave the way for a 45-minute precession after the break.

Aaron Wilbraham and Aden Flint did the damage before Jay Emmanuel-Thomas sauntered through a sea of bodies to score a quite brilliant solo goal six minutes from time.

Steve Cotterill made two changes to his side following Saturday’s goalless draw with Gillingham at Ashton Gate.

Derrick Williams, who hobbled off inside half an hour against the Gills, was not deemed fit enough to start with Greg Cunningham continuing in the Irishman’s traditional left-sided centre-back berth.

Elsewhere, Emmanuel-Thomas was preferred to Kieran Agard in attack after an impressive late cameo at the weekend.

Visitors Crewe opted to ditch their usual 4-4-2 formation having arrived in BS3 on the back of a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of City’s nearest challengers Preston North End.

Instead Steve Davis chose to match up against City’s 3-5-2, although that was where the similarities between the respective approaches ended.

The Railwaymen were determined to give nothing away and immediately set up camp inside their own half.

Despite an avalanche of early possession, the hosts would have to wait until the 17th minute for a first clear sight of goal.

A crunching tackle on Emmanuel-Thomas from veteran defender Alan Tate led to a City corner, from which Wilbraham was denied by the sharp reflexes of Paul Rachubka.

The much-travelled Rachubka, the only goalkeeper in Crewe’s matchday squad, would have to produce an even better stop seconds later, as another Luke Freeman delivery caused further panic inside the penalty area.

This time Joe Bryan connected with a thumping header brilliantly kept out before Cunningham slid in at the back post but could not force the loose ball over the line.

Set-pieces aside, City were being restricted to shots from distance. Cunningham, Freeman and Marlon Pack were all off target from outside the box before Wilbraham broke the deadlock on 32 minutes.

Such was the quality of Luke Ayling’s cross, perfectly shaped in behind the Crewe defence but curling away from Rachubka, the task of the City skipper was relatively straightforward, tucking the ball beneath the grasp of the keeper for goal number 17 of the season.

Gradually more spaces would start to appear. Emmanuel-Thomas was beginning to enjoy himself, even if there always seemed to be a navy shirt in the way just as he threatened to draw back his left foot within shooting range.

But City would find the all-important second goal three minutes before the interval to effectively kill off the visitors’ hopes.

Another corner would do the damage after Crewe had survived the earlier flurry, as Pack’s inswinger was met by room-mate Flint, whose downward header beat Rachubka and the covering defender, who could only help it into the roof of the net in trying to clear.

The 81 travelling fans had every reason to fear the worst, with City playing like a caged animal ready to be let loose after their failure to score last time out.

Straightaway Rachubka was called upon at the start of the second half as Bryan latched on to Cunningham’s pass and was twice denied in quick succession from a tight angle.

The first goal combination were nearly at it again four minutes later when Wilbraham slid but could not quite reach Ayling’s teasing square ball along the six-yard line.

To say Rachubka was the busier keeper would have been an understatement long before he dived to his left to keep out Freeman’s 20-yard drive destined for the bottom corner.

From then on it was almost too easy for City. Crewe’s lack of attacking potency meant the result was no longer in doubt, but the urgency with which the hosts had begun the second period had given way to a more relaxed mood inside Ashton Gate.

It was a jovial, chilled out sort of atmosphere – never more aptly summed up than by the piece of magic produced by Emmanuel-Thomas in the closing stages.

Ironically, it had not been a vintage night for City’s most unpredictable player, and when he picked up possession just outside the Crewe penalty area, few could have foreseen what would follow.

Faced by a wall of away shirts, the number ten found a gap that was not there to glide between them all, sit Rachubka on his backside and roll the ball into the unguarded net.