Match report: Crewe Alexandra 4, Bradford City 1
A SUPERB diving header from Max Clayton helped Crewe on the way to matching their best ever run in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
Man-of-the-match Byron Moore had pulled the Alex level at 1-1 just before the break against cup specialists Bradford City, who had taken the lead with a well-struck effort from distance by Kyel Reid midway through the first half.
The game was still tight after the break, however, until substitute Clayton netted his first goal since October with 13 minutes remaining.
Brad Inman took advantage of the increasing space to roll home a third and Chuks Aneke added a fourth in injury-time.
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Crewe now face Coventry City over two legs in the northern area final, hoping to go one better than they managed in 2007 and reach Wembley for the first time in this competition.
Crewe made three changes, with Ajay Leitch-Smith, Harry Davis and Alan Martin replacing Clayton, Mark Ellis and Steve Phillips.
Bradford, who made eight changes, matched the home side over the first 15 minutes and veteran striker Andy Gray had the first effort on target, a close-range header which went straight to Martin.
It was hardly against the run of play when, in the 18th minute, the visitors took the lead.
Winger Reid picked up a loose ball in acres of space and fired a 25-yard shot past Martin into the bottom corner.
The Alex thought they were level in the 21st minute when Mathias Pogba rose to provide a knock-down for Leitch-Smith to hammer into the net, but the forward was ruled offside.
Byron Moore was perhaps proving Crewe's most useful outlet and he swung in a beautiful cross towards Pogba, but the striker steered wide.
Pogba twisted past Tom Naylor to create another chance from a Matt Tootle corner in the 41st minute, but smacked his shot wide from a tight angle on the left-hand side of the six-yard box.
The best hope came through Moore, however, and it was the winger who helped bring Crewe level just before the break.
He beat Ryan Dickson all ends up and looped a cross-cum-shot over Jon McLaughlin which was helped over the line by Nathan Doyle.
Phillips replaced Martin at half-time and Crewe came out with an extra spring in their step, even if they remained wary of the threat from Bradford's quick wide men Reid and Blair Turgott.
Moore collected a well-won Pogba header and cut inside, sending through Brad Inman to rush into the area one-on-one.
The Newcastle loanee aimed for the top corner, but McLaughlin pushed his shot over.
Tootle was being well-worked by Turgott, but took a chance to burst into opposition territory when the opportunity presented itself on the hour-mark.
His low cross deflected against Doyle and the rebound rolled to Moore, but Dickson blocked his effort.
Inman was coming more into the game and tried his luck twice in two minutes from just outside the area, forcing a corner from the first, but failing to test the keeper on the second.
Clayton was introduced for Leitch-Smith in the 63rd minute, while Parkinson brought on Wells for Gray.
It needed something special for a breakthrough and it came from Clayton, who produced a superb diving header to get on the end of Moore's cross and put the Alex ahead.
Moments later he should have added his second when substitute Aneke's scuffed shot fell into his path, only for Clayton to fire wide.
Inman had found his range and he almost delivered a third for Crewe, with McLaughlin pushing around the post.
Clayton produced another superb header to find the net again from a Moore cross with eight minutes left, but this one was ruled out for offside.
Inman did make it three – and secured the victory – with two minutes left when he collected Aneke's through-ball and slotted into the bottom right corner.
Aneke then helped himself to a goal in injury-time when he found space on the edge of the box and fired in.