Crewe Alexandra 4 Bradford City 1

Life usually begins at 40 but it marked the end of City’s Wembley assault in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last night.

The busiest team in the country were playing their 40th game of a convoluted campaign – and the heavy defeat did not tell the story as they dipped out at the northern area semi-final stage for the third time in four years.

Competition rules state that you must keep six starters from the last match but Phil Parkinson, as he had hinted, made more changes with only Nathan Doyle and new arrivals Ryan Dickson and Andy Gray staying in from the side that kicked off against Oxford.

For the likes of Reid and Alan Connell, it was a chance to gain some much-needed match action – and give the boss a nudge ahead of the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Aston Villa next Tuesday.

Reid did just that after 18 minutes, with a helping hand from home keeper Alan Martin.

Curtis Good’s clearance found its way to the winger 25 yards out to the left of goal. It was a decent strike but flew straight through Martin’s defences to stun the home side.

It was the first shot in anger at either end and Crewe showed no immediate signs of launching a response. Their crosses looked for Mathias Pogba but centre halves Tom Naylor, who had extended his loan earlier in the day until February 9, and Good dealt with the danger.

On the one occasion Pogba did elude his marker to make room for a shot, the angle proved too tight and he fired behind.

But City’s resistance was broken a minute before the break. Byron Moore took on Dickson and his cross deflected off the left back’s lunge, looping over Jon McLaughlin towards the net.

Doyle, playing right back, slid in with a desperate attempt to clear but the ball had already crossed the line.

Crewe came at City again straight away and McLaughlin beat out Ajay Leitch-Smith’s effort as the hosts finally started to turn their increased possession into chances.

Martin paid the price for his part in City’s goal as veteran Steve Phillips took over as Crewe keeper for the second half.

But it was his opposite number who was called into action as McLaughlin tipped over from Harry Davis after the Crewe defender found himself in space 12 yards out.

It was a sloppy game that was not helped by a pitch getting harder and harder as the temperature continued to plunge.

The action suddenly burst into life as Bradden Inman released Tootle on the left of the City penalty area. Naylor slid over to try to block the cross but instead diverted it against the inside of the post.

With McLaughlin out of position, Moore looked certain to fire home the rebound but Dickson made a fantastic goal-saving block with his body.

Parkinson swapped his strikers midway through the half as Nahki Wells and Zavon Hines replaced Alan Connell and Andy Gray.

City were hunting a second as Reid, who’d had an in and out night, burst into the box but ran out of ideas when looking for a team-mate.

But it was Crewe who struck the decisive blow with 13 minutes left.

Moore, always a threat on the wing, whipped in a cross which sub Max Clayton met with a diving header. McLaughlin should have dealt with it but was beaten at the near post.

The City stopper then spilled Inman’s shot as his unconvincing night continued. He was not making a case to unseat Matt Duke.

Carl McHugh was thrown on as an emergency extra striker for the last six minutes and City almost got another assist from more calamity defending as Phillips and Luke Murphy got mixed up leaving a bouncing ball for each other.

McHugh flicked a header just past the far post but Crewe took advantage of City throwing more and more bodies forward to seal the deal with a third goal from Bradden Inman on the break.

And the scoreline was given a really lop-sided look when Chuke Aneke drilled home number four with virtually the last kick of the game.

CREWE: Martin 5 (Phillips 46min, 6), Mellor 6, Dugdale 6, Davis 7, Tootle 7, Moore 8, Murphy 6, Osman 6, Inman 7, Leitch-Smith 6 (Clayton 64min), Pogba 6 (Aneke 70min). Subs (not used): Ellis, Robertson.

CITY: McLaughlin 5, Doyle 6, Naylor 7, Good 7, Dickson 7 (McHugh 83min), Turgott 7, Jones 6, Ravenhill 6, Reid 6, Connell 6 (Wells 67min), Gray 7 (Hines 66min). Subs (not used): Brown, Duke.