Reds returned to winning ways with an ultimately comfortable victory over League Two Cambridge United in the first round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
After a quiet and goalless first half at the Checkatrade.com Stadium, Reds began the second half strongly and went ahead through an own goal by Richard Tait. Gavin Tomlin hit the post and had a goal disallowed for offside before half-time substitute Charles Banya scored his first senior goal.
John Gregory made six changes to the side that went down 2-0 at MK Dons on Saturday. There were full debuts for Mitchell Rose, Emmett O’Connor, Matt Harrold and goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown while Sonny Bradley and Lewis Young got starts.
Dean Leacock was named captain in the absence of Joe Walsh, who was on Wales u-21s duty along with Gwion Edwards. Josh Simpson (ankle), Bobson Bawling (hamstring) and Conor Henderson (knee) were out through injury.
The visitors also made five changes to the side that started Saturday’s 5-0 win over Carlisle United.
In keeping with the early rounds of this competition, there was a low-key atmosphere and that was reflected in a disappointing first half when neither goalkeeper was seriously extended.
The endeavour and effort was certainly there and on occasion both sides put together some good moves. Space opened up for O’Connor in the fifth minute after a good move but the Canadian fired over. Cambridge responded and Jayden Stockley fended off Bradley on the right but his inviting cross rolled along the six-yard box without anyone able to get a touch.
Harrold ‘s hold-up play was excellent and he won plenty of balls in the air but it wasn’t until the 31st minute when he linked up to good effect with Tomlin. Tomlin spotted his run and played him in with a reverse pass but Harrold dragged his shot across goal and wide.
Reds’ other decent opening came when Rose played O’Connor in behind the visitors’ defence. He took the ball past keeper Chris Dunn but over-ran it and it went out of play.
Robbie Simpson and Luke Chadwick fired over from decent positions for the visitors, who looked a threat when they got men forward from midfield.
JG had clearly had words at the break because Reds started to second half at full pelt. Cambridge keeper Chris Dunn smothered the ball when Harrold was played in by Tomlin but couldn’t get a decisive connection under pressure from Josh Coulson then Young, who had switched to the left with sub Banya on the right, fired the ball past Dunn. Tomlin tried to make sure it crossed the line but the assistant ruled he had strayed offside.
Young then teed up Tomlin but his shot struck the base of the post before Reds finally broke through in bizarre fashion on 55 minutes. Right-back Tait tried to clear Tomlin’s cross but only succeeded in nudging the ball past Dunn. TAIT handled as he tried to clear it but the ball rolled over the line anyway.
The hosts squandered a great position to add a second on 58 minutes when they broke from a Cambridge corner. Young’s pass played in Smith but he tried to back-heel the ball to Harrold when he had a clear strike at goal and got it wrong, allowing the visitors to clear.
On 61 minutes Izale McLeod came on for Ryan Dickson with O’Connor dropping to left back. United were still a threat and Sam Whittell wasn’t far away with a drive from 20 yards.
Ryan Richefond made his first competitive appearance with 19 minutes to go and moments later Young wasn’t far away with a low drive that flew just wide of the near post.
With 14 minutes to go Reds made it 2-0. Izale McLeod played in BANYA down the inside right channel and he strode through before firing the ball through Dunn’s legs for his first senior goal – a great moment for the former Fulham trainee.
Donaldson was denied a consolation with seven minutes to go when he took a pass from Chadwick only for Ashdown to make a good stop at his near post. The keeper then grabbed a fiercely-struck shot by Liam Hughes at the second attempt.
Reds should have added late goals with Tomlin just wide from the edge of the box before Young got clean through only to lift his shot over the keeper and the bar.
But it was an encouraging performance by a much-changed Crawley side and they can look forward to the second round draw on Saturday morning.
Reds: Ashdown; Oyebanjo, Dickson (sub: McLeod 61), Leacock, Bradley; Young, Rose (Banya 45), Smith, O’Connor; Harrold (Richefond 71), Tomlin.