Ibehre's goal earns Cambridge 2-1 win after Poleon scored third goal in two games to put Crawley in front
Reds dismal form on the road continued after a late goal by Jabo Ibehre sentenced them to defeat at the Abbey Stadium on Boxing Day.
Dominic Poleon scored his third goal in two games to give Crawley a 16th-minute lead but the hosts levelled through George Maris 12 minutes later.
Cambridge dominated the second half but substitute Reece Grego-Cox squandered a late chance to win it for Reds moments before Ibehre pounced from close range to condemn Crawley to a seventh successive away loss. They only have one win in the last 12 in all competitions and badly need to turn their fortunes around to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.
Reds made two changes to the side beaten by Carlisle. Mark Connolly returned after injury and Josh Doherty also came into the defence as Gabriele Cioffi employed a 3-5-1-1 formation with Ashley Nathaniel-George operating just off Poleon.
Both sides struggle to find any cohesion in the early stages with the ball given away too frequently. Poleon looked lively though, after his two goals last Saturday, and he was denied a goal in the 15th minute by an offside flag after being found by Luke Gambin.
But a minute later Poleon took full advantage of a terrible mistake by Cambridge defender Brad Halliday who collided with team-mate Jake Carroll as they tried to clear Connolly’s ball upfield. Poleon was onto the loose ball quickly and rounded goalkeeper David Forde before side-footing the ball into an empty net.
It was just what Reds needed but on 27 minutes the hosts were level. Halliday pulled the ball back from the right to Maris who side-footed with his right foot into the bottom corner. Not for the first time in recent games Crawley had conceded a goal to a pull-back to an unmarked opponent just inside the box.
The visitors nearly responded straight away when Joe McNerney met Josh Payne’s free kick with a header back into the danger area but Poleon was crowded out just as he was going to pull the trigger.
Seven minutes before the break Reds threatened again from a set-piece. Connolly met the delivery this time by Payne but his header flew a yard wide of the upright.
It had been an encouraging first 45 minutes for Crawley, but the hosts took control at the start of the second half, pinning Reds back deep into their own half, and they thought they had been handed a great chance to score in the 58th minute when the referee pointed to the spot for a challenge by Connolly on Reggie Lambe. But after several moments of confusion, and presumably on the advice of his assistant, he changed his mind and gave a bounce ball instead.
Morris made a decent save a minute later when he turned over Harry Darling’s header before Crawley finally got a foothold in the contest again, although their only effort at goal during this spell was a side-foot effort over the target by Payne, after Panutche Camara had found him in space.
Dannie Bulman came on to help shore things up and with 13 minutes to go Joe Maguire and Reece Grego-Cox entered the fray, shortly before Lambe hit a shot from the right-hand side of the box that Morris was relieved to see clear his bar.
Grego-Cox then had two chances in the space of a minute to open his account for the club. Poleon’s persistence created space on the right-hand side of the box for Grego-Cox but his shot flew across the face of an open goal and wide. The former QPR youngster then seemed to do the hard work by getting on the right side of Forde for a shot but he failed to make contact.
Gary Deegan’s powerful drive was blocked by N’Gala but how costly those misses were to prove became evident with two minutes to go. Cambridge worked the ball nicely from defence and David Amoo got possession on the by-line. There were four defenders between him and the goalscorer, but the ball beat all of them and Morris and Ibehre was able to knock it unmarked from less than a yard out.
Poleon tested Forde in stoppage time but Cambridge held on. A real blow for Reds but on the balance of play a deserved win for the hosts. Crawley now need to regroup and go again this Saturday at Newport County.
Reds: Morris; N’Gala, Connolly, McNerney; Francomb, Payne, Camara, Gambin, Doherty; Nathaniel-George; Poleon. Subs: Bulman (for Nathaniel-George 62); Garner (for Doherty 77); Grego-Cox (for Gambin 77). Unused subs: Mersin, Sesay, Allarakhia.
Picture: Dominic Poleon strokes the ball home to put Reds in front. Photo by Steve Lawrence