Crawley suffered their first defeat in four games at the hands of Gillingham at the Checkatrade.com Stadium on Saturday, pushing them back into the bottom four in Sky Bet League One.
Skipper Izale McLeod drew the home side level after they had gone behind in the first half but Jermaine McGlashan’s 81st-minute header proved decisive and dropped Reds back into the relegation zone after Crewe won 2-1 at Sheffield United.
Interim boss Dean Saunders made his first changes to the starting XI since the 1-0 defeat away at Bradford at the start of the month. Marvin Elliott came in for Mathias Pogba, while Brian Jensen returned to the line-up following Lewis Price’s concussion in last week win at the Checkatrade.com Stadium over Leyton Orient.
There was a place on the bench for new signing John Cofie, however Kelly Youga did not feature in the squad as his international clearance did not arrive in time.
After a tepid opening to the contest the visitors nearly went in front on 18 minutes, but captain Doug Loft couldn’t beat Jensen, who got down well to his left hand side to make the save.
Reds were on the back foot and struggled to get any momentum going in the first period as Gillingham dominated possession. Loft and Bradley Dack were controlling the middle of the park, and found the wide men on numerous occasions but the visitors never really threatened Jensen’s goal.
Marvin Elliott had to go off for treatment to an ankle knock and the visitors made the extra man advantage count on 40 minutes when DACK found space to the right of the box and finished low across Jensen into the bottom corner with his low, angled finish.
This seemed to bring Crawley to life just before half time as they went on the attack. Man of the match Anthony Wordsworth had Reds’ first two shots of the match, but neither troubled Glen Morris in the Gills goal.
Saunders made two changes at half time, with Lewis Young and Elliott being replaced by Lanre Oyebanjo and Gwion Edwards. The pair made an immediate impact, linking up well and finding plenty of space down the right hand side.
The visitors had the first chance of the second half, though, as John Marquis found space on the corner of the six-yard box and forced a corner as Jensen got down low to his left to save.
But Reds were level on 62 minutes as man of the moment McLEOD was on target for his 19th of the season. The front man controlled a diagonal ball with his chest and smashed home from 18 yards past the helpless Morris.
The game opened up as both teams switched play well and found an increasing amount of space in the opposition half.
Gills’ main threat came from the right wing with McGlashan, who ran past Sonny Bradley on 79 minutes and cut back to Max Ehmer. The centre-back’s effort beat Jensen but struck the outside of the post.
McGLASHAN then put the visitors in front on 81 minutes when he met Dack’s inch perfect cross and headed into an empty net.
In the 90th minute the Reds were close to a second equaliser. Gavin Tomlin laid the ball off to substitute Oyebanjo whose left foot effort hit the outside of the post.
Gillingham held on and Reds now face a crucial Good Friday test at Crewe as they look to climb back out of the bottom four.