Reds couldn’t hold onto a first half lead as AFC Wimbledon took all three points, fighting back with two headers to win Crawley’s opening home game 2-1 at the Checkatrade.com Stadium.
Gwion Edwards’ 34th minute header put Mark Yates’ men in front after a solid first half performance, but Reds were outdone in the second 45 and couldn’t keep out the visitors’ muscular attack.
Mark Yates made three changes from Tuesday’s defeat at Peterborough United with Joe McNerney, Lewis Young and Shamir Fenelon replaced by Gwion Edwards, Simon Walton and Jon Ashton.
The pitch looked in pristine condition as league football returned to the Checkatrade.com Stadium after a grueling pre-season for the players and a summer of changes at the club.
Reds had the majority of play in the opening half but AFC were playing to their strengths and looking to find Adebayo Akinfenwa on every occasion.
Jon Ashton took on the task of competing with the big target man, and man marking him on each set piece. The centre-back didn’t disappoint and dealt with each situation calmly, hustling and bustling to keep Akinfenwa quiet during the opening stages.
Reds had much the better of things early on. Luke Rooney worked himself into some good shooting positions without managing to find the target while Roarie Deacon dragged a shot just wide from 20 yards. Reds were winning most of the 50-50 balls too and had a grip on midfield.
They deservedly took the lead on 34 minutes to the delight of the roaring home faithful. Luke Rooney created space on the left, before whipping in an inch-perfect ball to the far post, where Edwards met it with a towering header past the motionless James Shea for his second goal of the season.
Former Reds favourite Dannie Bulman made his return to the Checkatrade.com Stadium, coming on as a half time substitute.
Neal Ardley’s men looked a completely different side after the break and pressed every ball as they looked for an equaliser.
The aggrieved travelling fans saw penalty shouts turned away by referee Dean Whitestone just minutes after the restart. It was Akinfenwa who took a tumble after a Jake Reeves cross, but he was judged to have gone down far too easily by the man in charge.
Just two minutes later the visitors were level from an identical situation. That man again, Akinfenwa, met a curling cross after bulldozing his way to the back-post, heading low past Freddie Woodman.
AFC nearly took the lead with 15 minutes left, but a strong Woodman hand denied Akinfenwa again. The striker outmuscled Ashton and managed to get his header away without even jumping for the ball but Woodman pushed it around the post with a strong right hand.
But the away side had the momentum and went in front on 77 minutes. Again, it was a ball at the back post causing trouble for Woodman, who got a hand on George Francomb’s deflected effort but it fell for Andy Barcham, who couldn’t miss from a yard.
Reds tried to respond but Edwards dragged his shot wide late on as the home side struggled to create too much in the second half as the Dons held on for their first away win since Boxing Day.