Crawley Town 1, Cheltenham Town 0
Ollie Palmer returned after a five-game ban with a bang, scoring the only goal to settle a hard-fought game against Cheltenham.
Palmer’s 38th-minute penalty sealed our first League 2 double of the season and made it seven points from the last three games, all of which have seen Crawley keep a clean sheet.
The visitors played their part in an entertaining tussle and Reds were grateful for Mark Connolly’s late goal-line clearance to secure the points.
Gabriele Cioffi had made two changes with Palmer and Joe Maguire returning, Maguire as part of a three-man back line re-jigged in the absence of the banned Joe McNerney.
Former Red Tyrone Barnett twice reminded home fans of his aerial prowess as Cheltenham looked the more threatening in the first half hour.
Twice he climbed above the home defence to meet crosses by Chris Clements from the left, but neither effort tested Glenn Morris.
Dominic Poleon had carved out a good chance for himself in the 11th minute when he clipped the ball past Jordon Forster and saw a low drive saved by Scott Flinders.
That was the best home fans saw of their side in an attacking sense until they broke the deadlock in the 38th minute. Palmer, who gave the Cheltenham defenders plenty to think about all afternoon, saw Forster stick out a right hand to stop his pass and referee Sarginson pointed to the spot straight away. Palmer stroked the penalty down the middle with Flinders going the other way for his 12th goal of the season.
The visitors would have felt a little hard done by to be behind but they squandered a great chance to equalise in first-half stoppage time. Alex Addai beat the offside trap down the right but, with only Morris to beat, drilled his shot well wide of the far post.
Crawley began the second half brightly and had three chances to stretch their lead in seven minutes. Flinders saved a low drive from Luke Gambin then Chris Hussey produced a great tackle to dispossess Poleon after Josh Payne played him in. And on 52 minutes Palmer’s cross-shot took a deflection and although Poleon got contact at the far post he couldn’t divert the ball into the net at full stretch.
Reds made their first change on 66 minutes when David Sesay was replaced by Lewis Young, who nearly made an immediate impact when he only just failed to get a decisive touch in front of goal after Maguire had headed Josh Doherty’s corner towards Flinders.
Cheltenham lost influential midfielder Nigel Atangana when he was stretchered off with 18 minutes to go at that stage Reds still looked the side most likely to score. They had another opening when Palmer nodded Payne’s free kick to Poleon but his header was saved at full stretch by Flinders.
Reece Grego-Cox replaced Poleon with ten minutes to go then moments later Cheltenham had their best opening of the second half when the ball dropped to sub Ryan Broom in space on the right but he sliced his shot wide.
The visitors were then denied by a terrific headed clearance by Connolly from under his own bar after Ben Tozer met a corner with a firm header.
Reds negotiated six minutes of stoppage time with Palmer winning four successive corners when he played the ball off a defender in the corner, much to the amusement of the home fans. It was a professional performance by Reds who have begun 2019 in style.
Reds: Morris; Francomb, Connolly, Maguire; Sesay (Young 65), Payne (Bulman 86), Camara, Gambin, Doherty; Poleon (Grego-Cox 80), Palmer. Unused subs: Mersin, Nathaniel-George, N’Gala.
Attendance: 2623 (216 away).