Decent Reds performance merited more against the new League 2 leaders
Reds ended 2016 as they had started it with a defeat to one of the League 2 heavyweights, but unlike the 3-0 loss at Portsmouth on January 2 there was much to commend Crawley’s performance against high-flying Argyle.
James Collins’ first-half lob dropped inches over an open goal and in the final minute of normal time Luke McCormick produced a stunning one-handed save to keep out Jordan Roberts’ powerful drive from just inside the box.
That would have been a deserved equaliser for Reds based on their overall performance after Oskar Threlkeld’s emphatic finish had put Argyle ahead midway through the second half. Instead, Craig Tanner rubbed Reds noses in it deep into stoppage time when Plymouth profited on the counter attack.
Six visitors were booked including Collins and skipper Jimmy Smith after the game’s main talking point when Enzio Boldewijn appeared to be brought down by ex-Reds captain Sonny Bradley in the box but referee Brendan Malone thought otherwise.
With Head Coach Dermot Drummy laid up at home with flu, assistant Matt Gray took charge of Reds and there was one change – the first for four games - to the side beaten by Orient on Boxing Day. Joe McNerney, a half-time replacement for Andre Blackman, kept his place. Blackman dropped to the bench.
The hosts knew before kick-off that victory would lift them back to the top of the table and the burly Arnold Garita was a threat up front for Argyle in the early stages, and Yorwerth was spoken to for the second of two early challenges on the Cameroon striker.
Plymouth looked dangerous early on without threatening Glenn Morris and Crawley began to grow into the game. Boldewijn elected to shoot early but dragged his effort wide and there was the same result when Josh Payne finished a move he started himself with a great 50-yard cross-field pass to Lewis Young. Sadly, when the ball eventually fell to the midfielder 25 yards out his shot failed to test McCormick.
Morris was called into action to make a comfy save low to his left from Garita’s pea-roller but Reds were playing with a degree of confidence as half-time approached and were inches away from breaking the deadlock in the 44th minute. Boldewijn won the ball off Gary Miller on the touchline then played in Collins, who had timed his run to beat the offside trap. The striker chipped McCormick from the edge of the box but his effort landed on the roof of the net.
The hosts had been subdued in the first half and so had their fans in a crowd of 9,039 but the arrival of Craig Tanner at the break seemed to perk them up. Top scorer Graham Carey tested Morris in the 58th minute from 25 yards but the Reds keeper pushed away his shot and two minutes later got behind a volley from Tanner, as the Argyle faithful belatedly found their voice.
They were on their feet in the 68th minute when the deadlock was broken. Reds failed to clear David Fox’s cross from the left and when the ball ran loose Threlkeld pounced from 12 yards, side-footing it at pace into the bottom corner and giving Morris no chance.
Reds were convinced they should have had an immediate opportunity to respond. Boldewijn dribbled past three defenders and went down under Yann Songo'o’s outstretched leg but referee Malone waved away penalty appeals.
The referee incurred the wrath of the visitors again with 14 minutes to go. Boldewijn beat substitute Connor Smith for pace on halfway and was hauled down just inside the Argyle half. Reds were convinced Smith should have been shown red as the last defender, but instead Mr Malone settled for yellow.
Reds had created little in the second half despite getting into some promising positions but Roberts was desperately close to levelling in the last minute when McCormick kept out his powerful shot with an outstretched left hand. Instead, Argyle rubbed Crawley noses in it when they broke away to score their second deep into stoppage time. Jake Jervis unselfishly teed up Tanner whose powerful shot flew past Morris.
Reds: Morris; Young, McNerney, Connolly (Bawling 77), Yorwerth, Roberts; Smith, Payne (Watt 85); Clifford (sub: Djalo 65); Boldewijn, Collins.
Booked: Roberts, Yorwerth, Connolly, Young, Collins, Smith
Crowd: 9039 (84 Reds)