Crawley Town 1 Bristol City 2
Reds gave an excellent account of themselves against Bristol City before an 82nd-minute goal from Luke Ayling earned the League One champions-elect a hard-fought win.
City had taken the lead through defender Aden Flint just after the break but Anthony Wordsworth levelled just before the hour and, on the balance of play, it was no more than Crawley deserved.
But Luke Freeman produced his second telling delivery of the afternoon to set up Ayling for the winner. It was by no means a bad performance by Crawley, though, and with a run of games to come against sides in the bottom half of the table they still have plenty of reasons to believe they can climb out of the relegation zone.
Dean Saunders made one change to the side beaten at Bradford in midweek with Ryan Dickson restored to the starting line-up and Gwion Edwards dropping to the bench.
In bright sunshine there was a lively start to the contest. Flint needed his wits about him on two occasions in the heart of the City defence as Izale McLeod threatened and in the 13th minute Lewis Price made a double save to deny Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard, but the West Stand side assistant had already flagged for offside.
Both teams matched up in 3-5-2 formations with Dickson and Lewis Young providing the width while also required them to do their fair share of defensive duties.
Dickson found himself unmarked in the City box on 22 minutes but McLeod elected to shoot himself and his right-foot effort from the edge of the box sailed wide after a good break by the home side.
Dickson was involved again on the half-hour when man of the match Lee Fowler's pass sent him clear down the left. His cross picked out Mathias Pogba whose volley cannoned off Derrick Williams before City mopped up the danger.
Reds thought their pressure had been rewarded on 31 minutes when Richard Wood headed in Fowler’s free kick but the assistant raised his flag for offside against Pogba. It was a marginal decision at best.
Wordsworth was booked for a couple of late challenges but Reds ended the half on top and City’s frustration was evident just before the break when Reds cleared a corner and Williams was booked for bringing down Lewis Young as the hosts counter-attacked quickly.
City had looked anything but runaway leaders in the first half but their response at the start of the second period was that of a side heading for the Championship.
Flint saw a header cleared off the line by Wood and Lewis Price then blocked Luke Freeman’s follow-up but the pressure told moments later when FLINT rose highest to meet a cross from Freeman after Reds had been caught napping by a quickly taken throw in by Korey Smith with 47 minutes on the clock.
City had their tails up as they played toward more than a thousand of their own fans before Reds did get a sight of goal on 57 minutes and Pogba fired over from the edge of the box after rather snatching at the chance after Williams had slipped.
Two minutes later came the equaliser. Tomlin did well on the left to spot WORDSWORTH unmarked 16 yards out and he turned to lash a left-foot shot into the top corner after Dickson's long throw had caused panic in the Bristol box.
It was end to end stuff now. Price flipped a corner from Marlon Pack over his own bar then from Fowler’s corner Wood got a decent connection on the ball but his effort went a couple of yards wide of the upright.
At this stage it looked to be anyone’s game. Dean Morgan made a lively introduction after replaing Pogba but City still carried a threat and with eight minutes remaining they regained the lead when AYLING stole a yard at the near post to flick Freeman’s corner off his head and past a helpless Price.
Reds had two chances to equalise in stoppage time but Morgan got under his header and it went over the bar then Wood got his header from a deep cross by Tomlin on target but Fielding was able to make the save. Not even the most ardent Bristol fan could have complained if either had gone in but they didn't and Reds now have to regroup ahead of a big game at Colchester next Saturday.