A STOPPAGE-TIME strike from substitute Ryan Colclough in his comeback game after 16 months out put the seal on a desperately disappointing afternoon for promotion-chasing Sheffield United, beaten 2-1 at home by relegation-threatened Crewe.
A succession of injuries and off-the-field problems had kept the Crewe midfielder sidelined for a lengthy spell, but he was provided with a moment to savour with his speculative long-ranger deflected into the net past Mark Howard to provide the Alex with their first-ever win at Bramall Lane in 14 attempts.
The Blades, so impressive in midweek in routing Scunthorpe 4-0, produced a disappointing performance after back-to-back wins at S2 against Iron and Port Vale and received some boos at the final whistle from frustrated home fans.
The hosts produced a largely error-strewn display, safe for a mini-spell in the second period.
The Alex took the lead on 12 minutes, thanks to a well-taken goal from the recalled Lauri Dalla Valle.
Jason Holt, who netted on Tuesday against Scunthorpe, seemed to have spared the Blades’ blushes with a 54th-minute leveller following good work by Jamie Murphy.
But Colclough had the final say right at the death.
Crewe looked far from a side who had been beaten in their last five matches and produced the telling moments of quality in the first half against the Blades, who lost their way after the Railwaymen’s opener.
Blades could not manufacture a clear-cut early chance, with their best moment coming when Jose Baxter’s well-struck shot was blocked by Chris Atkinson.
Not too long after, the visitors took the lead with a polished move, with ex-Doncaster Rovers loanee Uche Ikpeazu playing a leading role.
The forward showed strength and perception to slot in the recalled Lauri Dalla Valle, who coolly tucked the ball past Mark Howard with the Blades defence undressed.
The goal clearly rattled the hosts, with several players soon guilty of surrendering possession, much to the angst of the crowd, with Crewe needing no second invitation to break forward.
On 21 minutes, Crewe profited from an error from John Brayford, with Anthony Grant’s clever reverse pass sending Nicky Ajose clear on the left, with an angled drive from the Leeds United loanee blocked by the chest of Howard.
Three minutes later, Ryan Flynn had the ball in the net for the hosts, with Paul Rachubka prostrate on the ground after being illegally challenged by Steven Davies, with referee James Adcock pulling play back.
With the atmosphere somewhat flat, the Blades did little to enliven proceedings, with their only half-decent moment coming from a set-piece when Jamie Murphy’s corner found Brayford unmakred in the box, but his header flew over with Rachubka untroubled.
Before the break, a rare moment of enterprise saw Jason Holt manufacture space on the right, with his cross-shot flying across goal before Paul Coutts fired a long-ranger well over.
Moments before the break, the Blades had another brief sight of goal, but it ended tamely with Jose Baxter drilling a shot wide after being fed by Chris Basham.
The Blades made an interval change with Ben Davies entering the fray for Flynn, with home supporters entitled to expect much better after a low-key first period when the hosts looked devoid of ideas and fluidity.
But the early signs were not encouraging, with Crewe enjoying a degree of comfort once more with the Blades failing to generate tempo.
But on 54 minutes, the hosts pieced together their first genuine moment of incision and it yielded a much-needed dividend by way of a leveller.
Murphy did well on the left before finding Holt in the box as he produced a deft touch before firing a low angled shot past Paul Rachubka.
Boosted by the equaliser, the Blades started to impose themselves on proceedings, with Murphy firing off target when well placed after being set up by Baxter.
But after a decent spell, United proceeded to toil once again, with the home supporters quick to display their angst.
Fortunately at the other end, Crewe couldn’t piece too much together with their only effort of note seeing Harry Davis’ low shot held by Howard after being teed up by Ikpeazu.
Clough made two further changes on 74 minutes with Matt Done and Michael Doyle entering the fray for Baxter and Steven Davies.
It appeared to pep the Blades into a bit of renewed life with Murphy’s low strike blocked by Rachubka before Chris Basham went desperately close to putting the hosts ahead on a difficult day, rising highest at the back post following Ben Davies’ corner, but seeing his header hit the post.
Murphy, United’s most creative force on the day, then curled an effort off target.
At the other end, the Blades survived a scare when Ajose set up Dalla Valle, who turned neatly before seeing his low strike held in the nick of time by Howard.
Colclough then put the tin lid on a tough afternoon for the office for the Blades, with his long-ranger escaping the clutches of Howard after deflecting off Coutts.
The Blades midfielder fired over in stoppage time, but it was Crewe’s day.
Sheffield United: Howard, Freeman, Basham, Brayford, Harris, Coutts, Holt, Baxter (Doyle 74), Flynn (B Davies 45), S Davies (Done 74), Murphy. Substitutes not used: Alcock, McNulty, Turner, Adams.
Crewe Alexandra: Rachubka, Tate, Davis, Dalla Vale, Turton, Ness, Grant, Atkinson (Stewart 76), Leigh, Ikpeazu (Colclough 71), Ajose (Inman 85). Substitutes not used: Guthrie, Ray, Saunders, Waters.
Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire).
Attendance: 19,672 (289 Crewe supporters).