Colchester United 2 Crawley Town 3
Reds gave their survival hopes a massive lift with a vital victory over fellow Sky Bet League One strugglers Colchester United.
The home side’s early lead from Sammie Szmodics was quickly cancelled out by Ryan Dickson and just before the break Gavin Tomlin made it 2-1 to Reds.
David Fox's free kick levelled the game early in the second half but Izale McLeod won it with a 74th-minute penalty, his 16th goal of the season, after he had been brought down by Colchester keeper Sam Walker.
The 294 Reds fans in a crowd of 3592 offered fantastic support throughout and Crawley go to Port Vale on Tuesday in good heart as they look for another victory in the bid to avoid the drop.
Dean Saunders named an unchanged starting XI, the only change to the squad the return after four games out with a hamstring injury of Marvin Elliott, who was on the bench.
With so much at stake, a lively pitch and blustery wind no one was expecting a classic but we had two goals in the first 15 minutes and the woodwork was rattled as well.
That came after eight minutes when skipper McLeod latched onto Lewis Price’s clearance but, under pressure from Matt Briggs, he hit the post with a right-foot shot.
It looked like proving costly when Colchester opened the scoring in the 11th minute. Lewis Young’s headed clearance was picked up by midfielder SZMODICS and he hit a sweet right-foot volley past Price and inside the right-hand post.
The response from Reds, however, was impressive. Young produced an excellent cross from the right on the quarter-hour and DICKSON arrived unmarked at the far post to score his first goal for the club.
Another ex-Colchester player nearly scored on 25 minutes. Dickson’s long throw was flicked on by Sonny Bradley and Anthony Wordsworth hit a superb left-foot volley from the edge of the box which crashed back off the bar.
With both sides committed to attack the game raged from end to end but Reds took the lead four minutes from the break with Young again the provider. This time his cross found TOMLIN ten yards out and his low finish gave Sam Walker no chance after a clever dummy by Mathias Pogba created a yard of space.
Gavin Tomlin gets a hug from Sonny Bradley after putting Reds in front.
Colchester were level within four minutes of the break. Lee Fowler was booked for a foul 20 yards out and FOX stepped up to curl the resultant kick around the near side of the defensive wall, beating Price on his blind side inside the right-hand post.
The home side had made a bright start to the half but Reds should have retaken the lead on 53 minutes. Dickson’s cross picked out Tomlin unmarked 10 yards out but he headed wide of the left-hand post.
The pair combined again moments later when Tomlin’s clever pass into space found Dickson but he had strayed offside as he clipped the ball past Walker, although it looked a very marginal call.
Jacob Murphy tested Price with a snap shot at the other end and with an hour played and the game raging from end to end it was hard at that stage to predict there would not be any more goals.
Reds made their first change midway through the half when Elliott replaced Pogba and on 74 minutes they were back in front. Wordsworth, now operating in a more advanced role, slid a great pass down the side of the Colchester central defenders and McLeod raced away before his heels were clipped by Walker as he rounded the keeper. Referee Adcock immediately pointed to the spot and McLEOD calmly waited for the keeper to commit himself before rolling the penalty into the opposite corner.
With seven minutes left Gwion Edwards replaced Dickson and moments later Crawley nearly scored again when Bradley got a good flick on at the near post to Edwards’ corner but Colchester somehow scrambled the ball to safety.
Colchester mounted a furious late offensive and won six corners in the last six minutes but Reds defended with their lives to cling on to a precious three points.