Bez Lubala’s eighth goal of the season was in vain as Reds conceded twice in the last seven minutes to slip to an agonising defeat at the Abbey Stadium.
Lubala’s goal with ten minutes to go was no more than the visitors deserved, having the more threatening in a game of few clear-cut chances.
But Sam Smith scored a well-taken equaliser in the 83rd minute and three minutes later a Glenn Morris’s hasty clearance rebounded off Paul Lewis and rolled into an empty net. An outcome Crawley did not deserve but it’s one win in 12 in all competitions now and Gabriele Cioffi will be desperate for a return to winning ways next week when Reds take on Scunthorpe United in the first round of the FA Cup.
Cioffi reacted to the midweek Carabao Cup exit by making four changes. In came Glenn Morris, Ashley Nathaniel-George, Lewis Young and Panutche Camara with Michael Luyambula, Mason Bloomfield, Tarryn Allarakhia and David Sesay dropping to the bench. Ollie Palmer (toe) and George Francomb (calf) were sidelined by injury.
Reds haven’t got a great League record at the Abbey Stadium with just one win there back in 2015, but the revamped line-up took the game to the hosts in the first half.
Reece Grego-Cox played as a lone striker with Nathaniel-George and Lubala offering support in wide areas and it was only some bad finishing which prevented the visitors from going ahead in the first half.
Camara broke with purpose in the seventh minute to find Nathaniel-George. He fed Lubala for a drive which dripped over before Nathan Ferguson tested keeper Dimitar Mitov.
Reds enjoyed good spells of possession and threatened again when Josh Doherty fed the overlapping Lubala down the left but Reds’ top scorer couldn’t keep his effort on target. Mitov then saved Grego-Cox’s shot before the visitors had their best chance of the half just before the break. Nathaniel-George cleverly played in Camara but the midfielder, not noted for his goalscoring prowess, fired over left-footed from a great position inside the box – a bad miss.
At the other end Morris had little to do and Reds began the second half brightly too, but Ferguson was again off target with his shot on 52 minutes before Elliott Ward cut out a dangerous ball in the box with Lubala poised to pounce. Six minutes later it was Ashley for Ashley as Nadesan came on for Nathaniel-George in Reds’ first change.
Nadesan was nearly played in by Young after a mix-up in the Cambridge defence before Grego-Cox tried his luck on 72 minutes, after good work by Ferguson, but again the home keeper wasn’t tested. Ferguson was back to his best and in the 78th minute he produced a great cross which only needed to be tapped in by a team-mate – but no one could apply the decisive touch.
It looked like being one of those afternoons then finally Reds broke through with 10 minutes to go. Young, bursting into the box, slid in Lubala and his finish gave Mitov no chance as he notched his first goal in 11 games.
But the lead lasted just three minutes as Cambridge drew level with a fine finish by Smith, who took Ward’s pass in his stride before drilling a low shot past a helpless Morris.
If that wasn’t bad enough, three minutes later the hosts went 2-1 up. Morris was forced to come out and clear after a mix-up at the back and his clearance cannoned off Lewis and rolled into an empty net. A disastrous three minutes for Reds, who looked to have got the game won and instead went back down the A14 wondering how they left the Abbey unrewarded.
Crawley Town: Morris, Young, Dallison, Tunnicliffe, Doherty, Bulman, Ferguson, Camara, Nathaniel-George (Nadesan 58), Lubala, Grego-Cox.
Attendance: 3538 (154 Crawley)
Picture: Bez Lubala challenges for the ball before later scoring his eighth goal of the season. Photo by James Boardman