Reds are up to eighth in the League 2 table after Bez Lubala’s seventh goal of the season sealed a hard-fought win over Mansfield at The People’s Pension Stadium.
Lubala struck with a deflected effort early in the second half, having seen a first-half penalty saved by Conrad Logan after Reece Grego-Cox had been brought down.
The goal sparked a furious response by the visitors, but Glenn Morris made some important saves while the whole team dug deep to protect their precious advantage and Reds had some late opportunities on the counter-attack to make the closing stages less stressful for the home faithful.
Reds had to make one change to the side which drew at Macclesfield last time out. Tom Dallison dropped out with an ankle injury so Jamie Sendles-White came in for his home debut in the heart of defence and could be pleased with his contribution. Both he and Jordan Tunnicliffe won a lot of headers while Josh Doherty was just as solid and also made an important goal-line clearance in the second half.
Right from the outset two teams committed to attack traded blows. Nicky Maynard and Ollie Palmer, playing against one of his former clubs, exchanged early chances before Mansfield keeper Logan just about won a foot race with man of the match Panutche Camara after the midfielder had chased a clearance with the Stags’ defence in hasty retreat.
Reds missed a great chance to open the scoring on 25 minutes as they started to apply persistent pressure. They had already had a couple of penalty shouts turned down when Grego-Cox was sent spinning by Krystian Pearce’s challenge. This time ref Scott Oldham pointed to the spot and although Lubala hit the ball firmly enough, Logan plunged to his right to push it away at full stretch. A great penalty save – and unfortunately a second spot-kick miss by Bez this season.
Palmer headed Grego-Cox’s cross over at the far post four minutes later before the Stags wasted a great chance of their own. Maynard laid it on a plate for Danny Rose six yards out, but his first touch was too heavy and Morris smothered at his feet.
Doherty, already booked for a foul on Alex MacDonald, got a final warning from the ref after chopping down Kellan Gordon and the half ended with more chances created and not taken.
Nathan Ferguson is never shy of having a dip from distance and he fired wide from 20 yarrds. Mansfield then broke and Morris pushed out CJ Hamilton’s shot. The half ended with Palmer meeting Lubala’s corner on the edge of the six-yard box but he failed to keep his side-footer on target. A breathless and hugely enjoyable first 45.
Ryan Sweeney was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card when be brought Palmer down on the edge of the box after the striker brilliantly chested Morris’s clearance into his space and bore down on goal but on 53 minutes the goal Crawley deserved arrived – albeit with a slice of good fortune.
Lubala cut inside onto his left foot on the edge of the box and his shot took a big deflection, completely wrong-footing Logan who could only watch as the ball looped up and into the far corner.
It sparked a furious response from the Stags who squandered four chances to equalise in the next ten minutes. Gordon side-footed over, under pressure from Camara, after MacDonald found him 15 yards out before Morris saved Rose’s volley. Camara then gave the ball away and Conor Shaughnessy’s pass put Rose clear on goal but Reds got back in numbers and the striker’s shot was comfortable for Morris.
Doherty cleared the ball off the line on 63 minutes after Shaughnessy clipped the ball goalwards and from the resultant corner Sweeney rose but glanced his header wide. Morris then made another decent stop, this time from Maynard’s header.
Mason Bloomfield and Lewis Young were summoned to provide fresh legs and with ten minutes to go Tarryn Allarkahia got his first taste of League action when he replaced Palmer.
Camara had a couple of shots at goal then Grego-Cox teed up Lubala for an angled effort that was deflected wide of the far post but Morris had one more save to make in stoppage time when he plunged to his left to push away Mal Benning’s drive. That was the last of Mansfield’s chances and the home fans were able to celebrate three very nice points.
Reds: Morris; Sesay (Young 68), Doherty, Sendels-White, Tunnicliffe; Grego-Cox, Bulman, Camara, Ferguson (Bloomfield 63), Lubala; Palmer.
Attendance: 2095 (292 Mansfield)
Picture: Bez Lubala is hugged by Panutche Camara after scoring the only goal