Josh Payne and Joe McNerney scored their first goals of the season before the evergreen Dannie Bulman added a stoppage-time third as Reds returned to winning ways with a precious League 2 victory over Crewe.
Crawley were without a host of experienced players including 11-goal Ollie Palmer but another of their senior pros Glenn Morris produced yet another man of the match display. At times, particularly in the first half, the keeper kept Reds in the game single-handedly after Payne had scored from the penalty spot in the 14thminute.
Although Crewe continued to carry a threat the second half was much more even and Reds got some breathing space with 11 minutes left when McNerney buried a header from a corner. And in stoppage time Bulman converted Lewis Young’s cross to give the score-line a somewhat flattering look. Not that anyone of a Crawley persuasion was complaining!
After a difficult spell it was arguably the most important result of the season and Reds will hope to build on it on Tuesday when they make the trip to Mansfield Town.
Gaby Cioiffi made five changes to the side that exited the FA Cup in midweek. The suspended Palmer, Filipe Morais (hand), Mark Connolly (hamstring) and Romain Vincelot (ankle) were all ruled out while Lewis Young dropped to the bench.
Morris made his first save in the fifth minute, pushing Shaun Miller’s shot around the post. It was an omen of things to come.
But Reds had the lead on 14 minutes. Eddie Nolan sold keeper Ben Garratt short with a header back and Dominic Poleon nipped in and was sent spinning by Garratt’s challenge. Payne stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way from the spot.
It was Reds’ only shot on target of the half as Crewe laid siege to the home goal at times in the first half but found Morris in inspired form.
His best save was a stop at full stretch to deny the lively Charlie Kirk, who then had too much space on the edge of the box but sent his side-foot effort a yard wide with Morris for once beaten.
Morris denied Kirk again with a smothering save at the midfielder’s feet and then pushed away an effort by James Jones as Reds struggled to get out of their own half before finally having a decent spell of possession just before the break.
But if the home fans hoped the break would revitalise their side they were to be disappointed. Morris smothered Kirk’s cross before grabbing the ball after a couple of ricochets in the six-yard box as Crewe continued to dominate.
Ashley Nathaniel-George’s half-hearted penalty claims, after a challenge by Perry Ng, were waved away by the referee but although Morris wasn’t quite as busy as he had been in the first half it was still Crewe who carried the greater threat.
Cioffi brought on Reece Grego-Cox for Nathaniel-George before Bondz N’Gala made a terrific block to keep out Bowery’s shot with 20 minutes to go as the visitors continued to press.
Garratt had to make a hasty headed clearance under pressure from Poleon before the keeper was properly tested for the first time with 15 minutes to go when he pushed away Luke Gambin’s well-struck effort from the right-hand side of the box. That seemed to signal a shift in momentum and with ten minutes to go Reds doubled their lead. McNerney met Joe Maguire’s out-swinging corner from the left with a thumping header into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.
And in the final minute of stoppage time it was 3-0. Lewis Young, who had just come off the bench, galloped down the right and his cross was tapped in by an unmarked Bulman.
Reds: Morris; Francomb, N’Gala, McNerney, Maguire; Bulman, Payne; Nathaniel-George (Grego-Cox 67), Camara, Gambin (Young 90); Poleon (Allarakhia 90).
Crowd: 1734 (141 Crewe)
Picture: Dannie Bulman scores our third goal late on. Photo by James Boardman