First-Half free kick condemns Crawley to defeat
The only way is up for Reds after defeat at Fleetwood on Saturday sent them to the bottom of League One.
Antoni Sarcevic’s first-half free kick means it is now 13 games since Reds last tasted victory in the league and although they had some good spells at a blustery Highbury they failed to significantly test home goalkeeper Chris Maxwell despite finishing with three strikers on the pitch.
There was one change to the line-up with Lewis Young coming in for Gavin Tomlin. New signings Dean Morgan and Scott Dutton were both on the bench while Jamie Proctor lined up against his former club for the home side.
Gwion Edwards looked as if he meant business in the early stages, weaving his way past two challenges after just four minutes before his shot was blocked.
But that turned out to be the best opening Reds created in a first half had little to commend it for the first 30 minutes or so as two sides lacking in confidence sparred for control in a low-key atmosphere at Highbury.
The hosts gradually began to take the initiative. Liam McAlinden forced Lewis Price to make a couple of decent saves in the space of two minutes from shots inside the box and the Reds’ keeper was at full stretch on 31 minutes with a finger-tip save from Sarcevic’s angled drive.
With Fleetwood gaining control in midfield, Saunders made a tactical switch by pushing Anthony Wordsworth in behind lone striker Izale McLeod but despite one or two promising moments from Edwards and Young home keeper Maxwell had very little to do.
There weren’t too many alarms at the other end either but on 41 minutes the home side went in front. Lanre Oyebanjo clipped Proctor as he ran diagonally across the face of goal and Fleetwood were given a free-kick. Sarcevic hit it with power from inside the D and his effort went through the defensive wall and under Price’s dive. It was a soft goal to concede and handed Fleetwood the initiative at the break.
They were close to scoring a second two minutes into the second half when Jeff Hughes got around the back of the visitors’ defence but directed a free header from Gareth Evans’ corner over the bar.
It prompted a positive response from Reds. Two free kicks by Anthony Wordsworth found first Marvin Elliott and then Darren Ward moments later but neither player could keep their efforts on target.
There was a double change on the hour for Reds as Morgan and Bobson Bawling replaced Smith and Elliott with Edwards moving into central midfield in a switch to 4-4-2.
Crawley continued to try and take the game to the hosts but they had a let-off in the 70th minute when Sarcevic won the race with Price to a loose ball but his lob came back off the post and bounced into the keeper’s grateful arms.
Sarcevic then let fly with a volley that was on target but fortunately for Reds blocked by Joe Walsh.
Reds made their final change with 16 minutes left when Tomlin replaced Ryan Dickson, with Young moving to left-back.
Proctor forced Price to push his drive around the post with five minutes to go and in stoppage time Reds won three quick corners, the last of which fell to Edwards whose drive comfortably cleared the bar. It was the last threat on goal and summed up a disappointing afternoon for Crawley and the 95 travelling fans who nonetheless provided excellent vocal support throughout.