Poleon puts Crawley in front before Gillingham hit back to end Checkatrade Trophy hopes
A smartly-taken goal by Dominic Poleon gave Reds a first-half lead but Elliott List equalised just before the hour mark and with five minutes to go Bradley Stevenson scored the winner moments after Reece Grego-Cox had somehow missed from four yards for the visitors.
Despite losing 2-1 at Fratton Park, Tottenham under-21s went through with Portsmouth.
Gabriele Cioffi made nine changes to the side which held another League One side Southend to a 1-1 draw in Saturday’s FA Cup tie with only George Francomb and Joe McNerney keeping their places. Gillingham, who had no chance of progressing from Group A, changed ten players.
Romain Vincelot was given the role shielding the back four for the first time and Bondz N’Gala made his return after suspension and a hamstring injury. Mark Randall had recovered from illness to take his place on the bench while Dannie Bulman was named captain.
After an even start Gillingham should have gone in front after 14 minutes when Josh Rees elected to head back across goal when unchallenged on the corner of the six-yard box. The hosts were slightly the better side early on but Reds broke the deadlock in the 19thminute from their first attack of note. Reece Grego-Cox drifted in from the right before slipping a nice pass into Poleon’s path and the striker beat Tom Hadler on the angle to claim his second goal of the season.
Reds celebrate Dominic Poleon's goal in the first half
Gillingham responded brightly. Yusuf Mersin made an excellent save to keep out Billy Bingham’s close-range effort then the impressive List ended a great run with a shot that flew inches wide of the left-hand post.
Reds then had a good spell before the break. Ashley Nathaniel-George and Grego-Cox failed to find the target from decent positions before Grego-Cox saw another effort blocked. Space then opened up for Tarryn Allarakhia whose shot from just inside the box beat Hadler but drifted wide of the upright.
The hosts began the second period on the front foot and after Naved Naseri was only inches off target with a low drive from 20 yards they equalised in the 59th minute. Mersin and his defenders failed to deal with Dean Parrett’s free kick into a crowded six-yard box from deep on the left and List back-heeled the ball over the line from close range. It was a soft goal for Crawley to concede.
Hadler held Nathaniel-George’s shot three minutes later but that was Crawley’s first effort of the half. Cioffi then made his first change with goalscorer Poleon replaced by David Sesay with Grego-Cox pushed into an attacking role.
Reds began to get back into the game. Allarakhia fired over from a decent position inside the box before a defender’s boot cut out Grego-Cox’s pass with Allarakhia unmarked eight yards out and ready to pounce.
With Portsmouth winning, Reds knew a victory would seal their progress into the knockout stages but they were nearly behind in the 75thminute when the ball broke for Noel Mbo on the edge of the box. His effort, though, disappeared into the banks of empty blue seats behind the goal.
Randall replaced Allarakhia with 12 minutes to go then Reds wasted a glorious chance. Francomb produced a great cross from the right which Grego-Cox met four yards out but somehow managed to clear the bar with a side-foot effort.
It was a bad miss and Reds were made to pay in the 85thminute when substitute Stevenson made space on the edge of the box and drilled a low shot past Mersin and inside the right-hand post.
Hadler made a stoppage-time save to deny Grego-Cox but another route to Wembley had closed for Reds.
Reds: Mersin; Francomb, McNerney, N’Gala, Doherty; Vincelot; Grego-Cox, Bulman, Allarakhia (Randall 78), Nathaniel-George; Poleon (Sesay 66). Unused subs: Morris, Maguire, Galach, Camara.
Main picture: Dominic Poleon scores his second goal of the season. Photo: James Boardman