Ollie Palmer came up trumps in the 90th minute to earn Reds a hard-fought 1-0 win over Cheltenham Town at The People’s Pension Stadium.
The striker scored a superb solo goal to make it three for the season and earn his side a third win in seven days which lifted them into eighth place in the League 2 table.
It was hard work breaking down a resilient Cheltenham, who probably feel their efforts deserved a draw but winning when you are not at your best is a nice habit to have.
Reds made two changes to the side that had knocked Norwich out of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday. Glenn Morris returned in goal while Filipe Morais replaced Panutche Camara, who had an ankle injury.
The early signs for home fans were promising. Reece Grego-Cox saw plenty of the ball on the right as Crawley looked to stretch Cheltenham down the sides but it took 22 minutes before the first home chance. Reds worked the ball nicely from right to left and Bez Lubala’s shot took a deflection for a corner. Lubala found Tom Dallison ten yards out from his flag kick but the defender’s header went over.
Both Grego-Cox and Morais needed treatment after clashing heads with Charlie Raglan, who ended the first half with his head swathed in bandages. Nathan Ferguson bent a free kick from 30 yards just wide but that was about it in terms of first-half excitement.
Cheltenham showed more willingness to get forward at the start of the second half and they were inches away from breaking the deadlock in the 53rd minute when George Lloyd only just failed to get on the end of Sean Long’s cross.
But Reds gradually began to turn the screw. Morais fed Palmer in the 66th minute but his angled effort was blocked by Scott Flinders. There was a moment of alarm at the other end when a misunderstanding between Glenn Morris and Tom Dallison nearly let in George Lloyd, but the ball bounced off him and wide.
Gabriele Cioffi threw on Ashley Nadesan and Mason Bloomfield in the closing stages but any chance of a home win appeared to have gone in the 88th minute. Lubala did well to create space for a shot which Flinders pushed out to Nadesan. The striker fired it goalwards but Flinders blocked again.
Then the drama just as the fourth official was holding up the board for three additional minutes. Morris’s clearance fell to Palmer. The No.9 beat Raglan in the air after Morris had launched the ball forward from his own half, held off a challenge and created enough space to find the net with a right-foot shot. A breathless finish and three massive points.
Reds: Morris; Sesay, Dallison, Tunnicliffe, Doherty; Bulman (Francomb 45); Grego-Cox (Bloomfield 79), Ferguson (Nadesan 70), Morais, Lubala; Palmer. Subs: Luyambula, Young, Galach, Nathaniel-George.
Pictured: Ollie Palmer is all smiles after his last-minute winner