Walton and Murphy seal fourth win in six for CrawleyReds made it four wins from their last six League Two games with a hard-earned 2-1 success at Hartlepool.
The visitors went unrewarded for a first half which they dominated when they were denied by the excellence of home goalkeeper Trevor Carson.
The deadlock was broken on 66 minutes when Simon Walton scored his second goal of the season from the penalty spot after Scott Harrison was sent off for stopping Gwion Edwards’ shot with his arm.
Rhys Murphy scored for the third successive game to make it 2-0 but Billy Paynter made it a nervy last ten minutes for the 87 travelling fans in a crowd of 3,262 when he pulled one back with a powerful header.
Daryl Flahavan made an excellent save to preserve the lead although Reds squandered some good opportunities on the counter-attack to lower the blood pressure of the Reds’ faithful and management.
There was one change to the side beaten 3-1 at Morecambe in midweek as Shamir Fenelon, who had impressed coming off the bench in recent weeks, got his first League start with Roarie Deacon dropping to the bench.
Reds were on the front foot from the start and Matt Harrold and Jimmy Smith had already had two half-chances when Pools’ keeper Carson made the first of a string of saves on nine minutes when Harrold dispossessed his marker to find Smith, whose low drive from 15 yards was kept out by Carson diving to his right.
Edwards and Fenelon were good outlets for Reds as they looked to stretch the home side, who looked shaky after failing to win at home since August.
Carson made another excellent save in the 18th minute when Lewis Young’s diagonal ball was headed into the path of Murphy by Harrold but Carson kept out the striker’s powerful volley.
The keeper made a more comfortable stop when Murphy tried his luck from 30 yards but with Reds controlling possession the chances continued to come. Edwards cut inside two defenders to find Fenelon on the stretch at the far post but despite beating Carson to the ball his effort rolled agonisingly wide of goal.
Josh Yorwerth was next to go close on 36 minutes. Harrold again won the ball in the air, this time from Simon Walton’s corner, to find the Welshman but his close-range shot hit the side netting.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic. Daryl Flahavan made a decent stop early on when Rhys Oates let fly from 25 yards and Young made an important defensive clearance to prevent Jake Carroll converting an inviting cross by Rakish Bingham.
But all that was missing from Crawley’s first half performance were the goals that would have reflected their domination.
Hartlepool made two changes at the break, bringing on Jason Banton and Michael Woods and Nicky Featherstone roused the home fans with a 47th minute volley that was only a couple of yards wide.
It at least raised the volume level in Victoria Park and with Reds unable to find their first-half fluency the opening exchanges of the second period were quite scrappy.
The hosts were forced into a third change on the hour when defender Dan Jones limped off after lengthy treatment and was replaced by Michael Duckworth.
The game needed a goal and, on the balance of play, it was no surprise when Reds broke the deadlock in the 65th minute. Carson raced out of goal to make a brave save at the feet of Murphy but Edwards was quickest to the loose ball which he fired goalwards. Defender Harrison blocked it with his upper arm and was shown a straight red by referee Mark Heywood, and WALTON made no mistake from the resultant penalty as he sent Carson the wrong way to score against his former club.
Reds made an immediate change as Christian Scales replaced Edwards to play on the left of midfield with Edwards switching to the right-hand side.
Matt Harrold was booked for obstructing Carson before his opposite number made a terrific save on 71 minutes when Woods burst forward from midfield but saw his effort instinctively parried by Flahavan in the Crawley goal.
It was an important save because five minutes later Reds doubled their lead with a simple but well executed goal. Edwards ran at his marker and delivered a teasing cross to the far post which MURPHY swept home for his third goal in a week.
Game over? No. Hartlepool pulled a goal back on 80 minutes when Banton’s left-wing corner was met by Pools’ captain PAYNTER whose powerful header from ten yards flew past Flahavan.
The home side were re-energised. Appeals for a penalty for handball against Yorwerth were ignored by the referee and then Flahavan came out of goal to deny Banton with a timely clearance after Walton under-hit his back pass.
Ross Jenkins replaced Walton and Reds made their last change in the 87th minute when Murphy was replaced by Deacon.
Hartlepool thought they had levelled in stoppage time but Magnus Okuonghae’s header against his former club from Banton’s excellent delivery went inches wide of the far post.
A few moments later Crawley could celebrate. They made it unnecessarily nervy late on but overall thoroughly deserved the three points.