Payne scores stoppage-time penalty as Reds beat second-placed County
Josh Payne scored a stoppage-time winner as Reds beat second-placed Notts County to claim their first win at Meadow Lane.
The midfielder scored from the spot after Notts’ keeper Ross Fitzsimons kicked Mark Connolly in the penalty area and became the second home player to be sent off after Matty Virtue had seen red for two bookable offences moments earlier.
Jimmy Smith had scored for the second successive game to give Crawley a 25th-minute lead and Reds had other chances in the first half. Jon Stead scored his fifth goal in five games after handball by Josh Lelan to level 13 minutes into the second half.
Harry Kewell had made four changes to the side beaten 2-1 at Newport on Friday. Dannie Bulman returned after injury and Payne following a three-match ban while there were recalls for Josh Doherty and Thomas Verheydt.
Notts were smarting after suffering their first home defeat of the season on Saturday and they made a fast start, forcing five corners in the first ten minutes.
Lelan came to Crawley’s rescue when he hacked Virtue’s shot off the line after Glenn Morris had parried Lewis Alessandra’s angled effort then Alessandra hit a shot on the turn which clipped the top of the bar on its way over.
It had been all hands to the pump but Reds fashioned their first chance in the 12th minute when Enzio Boldewijn slipped a lovely pass into Verheydt’s path and although the striker’s shot beat Ross Fitzsimons it went a yard wide.
Having been under the cosh Reds now had a period in the ascendancy. Encouraged by a great playing surface they countered quickly and began to create further chances.
Verheydt got in again, the assist provided on this occasion by Lewis Young, but Fitzsimons blocked his powerful drive. Then Payne’s corner found the Dutchman’s head and his effort was cleared off the line.
Josh Yorwerth was next to be denied by goal-line clearance when he met another Payne corner with a firm header then Young and Lelan combined down the right and Young’s cross was met by Verheydt whose goalbound effort was superbly blocked by Richard Duffy.
The goal Crawley deserved finally came in the 25th minute. Lelan’s throw on the right was flicked on by Verheydt and Smith, in space 15 yards out, volleyed superbly past Fitzsimons and inside the right-hand post.
Notts tried to respond but after their earlier struggles the visitors were defending a lot better. Verheydt was booked for a a late challenge but that was the only alarm in the rest of the first half, although Virtue headed a yard wide in stoppage time from Dan Jones’ cross.
Reds knew what to expect after the break and Notts duly obliged, pushing forward from the re-start.
Morris made a superb save in the 55th minute when Stead was in on goal, plunging to his right to keep out his right-foot strike from ten yards but he had no chance three minutes later when County’s top scorer levelled from the spot. Lelan used a hand to control the ball when Noble’s shot deflected in the air and referee Oldham was well placed to give a penalty, which Stead drove into the bottom corner.
That set the tone for the rest of the second half as Notts pressed for a second goal and Crawley dug deep while trying to hit their hosts on the counter-attack. At times it looked as if the hosts must score, particularly when Mark Connolly and Yorwerth both hooked efforts from Alessandra off the line with 20 minutes to go, but the visitors held firm.
Reds had a great chance on the break in the 85th minute when Verheydt intercepted Duffy’s attempt to find his keeper but instead of shooting he elected to find Smith instead and Notts somehow cleared.
That looked like the opportunity to win it, even when Notts were reduced to ten men when Virtue fouled substitute Mark Randall in the 90th minute to pick up his second booking. It turned out, though, that the drama was only just beginning.
In stoppage time Fitzsimons claimed a corner and looked to get his side on the attack. He was blocked off and the keeper reacted by kicking out at Connolly. Referee Oldham sent off Fitzsimons and there was a lengthy delay before substitute goalkeeper Branislav Pindroch came on. Payne was coolness personified, slotting the penalty into the bottom corner before joining his team-mates a few moments later to celebrate a great victory in front of the 58 travelling fans.
Crawley Town: Morris; Lelan, Connolly, Yorwerth, Doherty: Bulman (Randall 74), Payne; Young, Smith, Boldewijn; Verheydt (Camara 87). Unused subs: Mersin, McNerney, Evina, Tajbakhsh, Sanoh.
Picture: Jimmy Smith is congratulated after putting Reds in front. Photo by James Boardman