A disappointing week for Reds ended with a narrow defeat to play-off chasing Preston, our third in a row and one which has probably put an end to any lingering hopes of forcing our way into the play-offs.
The prolific Joe Garner settled a hard-fought game with a 13th-minute header and thereafter Paul Jones was certainly the busier of the two keepers.
Reds kept plugging away and were always in the game and their best opportunity to level came when Billy Clarke fired over on the angle from eight yards in the second half.
Manager John Gregory made two changes to the side that lost at home to Sheffield United in midweek. Kyle McFadzean started a two-match ban and injury robbed Reds of Matt Tubbs and
Paul Connolly. Josh Simpson switched to right back and there was a start against his former club for Preston-born Jamie Proctor.
Preston lasted tasted league defeat at home in December and it took them just 13 minutes to break the deadlock through top scorer Garner.
Reds actually began well and forced a couple of corners, the second of which fell on the edge of the box to Sergio Torres but he failed to get his shot on target.
There would have been inquests in the Reds’ defence after they conceded a sloppy opening goal. Keith Keane’s cross found GARNER unmarked between two defenders and his downward header gave Paul Jones no chance. It was his 18th league goal of the season.
Preston scented blood and Garner was involved again four minutes later when his pass found midfielder Neil Kilkenny, but he dragged his shot wide from the edge of the box. Garner then wriggled his way into the box but Joe Walsh blocked his shot for a corner that Crawley cleared.
The visitors gradually got into the game though and some of their approach play was pretty decent. Declan Rudd clung onto a drive from Mike Jones at full stretch and five minutes before the break Andy Drury’s corner dropped to Josh Simpson, but his shot on the turn was a yard or so wide.
Keane and Garner combined again on 42 minutes but Garner’s header back across goal drifted well wide.
Garner was clearly full of confidence and he nearly added to his first-half goal two minutes after the break. As Reds appealed for offside he volleyed from close range but Joe Walsh had stayed alert and managed to block his effort.
Strike partner Stuart Beavon was next to threaten when he got in front of his marker to glance a header from Keane’s cross inches wide then on 64 minutes Jones made an instinctive save with his right foot after Garner had controlled a cross superbly to unleash a powerful volley which the visitors’ keeper was equal to.
All the time it was 1-0 Reds were still in the game and they came close to levelling a few moments later. Torres’ shot deflected into the path of Clarke on the corner of the six-yard box but he snatched at the opportunity, lifting it over the bar when he had more time and space than he clearly realised.
Torres had another effort that was a couple of yards wide then with 15 to go Monakana came on for his debut in place of Dannie Bulman.
Jones made another good one-handed save from Holmes’ free kick, after Walsh had been booked for a foul on the edge of the box, but at the other end Preston protected their slender advantage with a reasonable degree of comfort to claim another three points in their promotion bid, although Proctor wasn’t far away with an injury-time header from a corner which flew just over.