Carlisle United 3 Crawley Town 1
Reds became the latest side unable to end clinical Carlisle’s unbeaten start to the season on a strange afternoon in Cumbria.
The visitors had more possession and shots but where it mattered – in front of goal – they came unstuck.
And as they headed back down the M6 to make the 350-mile trip home Reds would have reflected that they didn’t make life easy for themselves.
Jabo Ibehre’s early header came straight from a long throw and Jason Kennedy lashed in the second after Crawley failed to deal with a routine ball into their box from ex-Red Mike Jones. In fairness, there was little Glenn Morris could do on either occasion and he certainly didn’t stand a chance when Luke Joyce hit a thunderbolt from 25 yards just before the break that might have followed the team coach down the motorway had the net not got in the way.
3-0 down rendered the second half an exercise in pride for Crawley and, as they had in the first period, they continued to create chances but the goal their afternoon’s exertions deserved wouldn’t come.
Dermot Drummy had made three changes with a first League start in midfield for Aryan Tajbakhsh. Alex Davey partnered Mark Connolly in central defence with Joe McNerney ruled out by a knee injury while Bobson Bawling and Billy Clifford dropped to the bench.
Carlisle included three ex-Reds. Nicky Adams and Jones were in the starting XI and Shaun Miller, who came off the bench in the second half.
It took the hosts just five minutes to break the deadlock. Davey did well to block a shot from Charlie Wyke but the visitors failed to deal with Tom Miller’s long throw and Ibehre rose in the six-yard box to plant a firm header past the helpless Morris.
James Collins gets in a shot during the first half
Against a side protecting a 14-match unbeaten record it was the worst possible start for the visitors but they responded positively and Luke Joyce had to come across to clear James Collins’ dangerous cross for a corner which was played back to the striker and his powerful drive was goalbound but hit team-mate Adi Yussuf. Carlisle keeper Mark Gillespie then pushed a 25-yarder from Jimmy Smith around the post for another corner.
Reds continued to look menacing but they found themselves 2-0 down in the 28th minute. The ball was hoisted into the box from the left by Jones and after defender Michael Raynes won the first header Kennedy reacted quickest to the loose ball and fired it home from eight yards.
Given how much possession they had enjoyed in the first third of the contest it was hard to believe Crawley were two goals down. They nearly got one back in the 38th minute when Yussuf turned his marker adroitly and let fly, the ball rebounding off Gillespie’s chest before Jimmy Smith was penalised for a foul as he tried to latch onto the loose ball.
But a minute from the break it got even worse for Reds. Andre Blackman’s attempted clearing header dropped to an unmarked Joyce 25 yards and he hit a stunning shot into the top left-hander corner off the underside of the bar which gave Morris no chance and Carlisle a 3-0 lead. Just before the break Davey’s looping header dropped the wrong side of the post – it had been one of those halves for Crawley.
And it nearly got even worse less than a minute after the break. Davey’s unconvincing clearance was latched onto Ibehre on the right. His cross found Wyke whose first-time volley flew just wide on the post.
Reds made their first change in the 54th minute when Kaby Djalo was replaced by Billy Clifford and the visitors continued to create good chances. Enzio Boldewijn’s cross was just out of reach of Collins and Yussuf and he wasted an even better opening on the hour, firing into the side netting after bursting into the right-hand side of the box.
Bobson Bawling came on for Tajbakhsh on the hour but Carlisle were managing the game well and nearly had a fourth in the 77th minute when substitute James Devitt’s first-time hit from just outside the box was pushed out by Morris.
Collins tested Gillespie in the 84th minute but the home keeper got behind his drive and the striker was frustrated again when Patrick Brough blocked his effort on the turn after good work by Bawling.
Jason Banton replaced Yussuf for the last five minutes and deep into stoppage time they got a deserved consolation when Connolly scored his second of the season from virtually on the line when he turned in Boldewijn’s driven cross.