Crawley suffered yet more heartbreak but can be proud of their performance against a team from the league above following a penalty shootout defeat at home to Gillingham on Tuesday night.
The visitors took an early lead through Gerald Sithole. The forward poked the ball home after potentially fouling Blondy Nna Noukeu
Crawley were in the ascendancy thereafter and earned their equaliser just before the hour-mark when Sam Ashford slid the ball home from close range.
Against the run of play, the visitors snatched what seemed to be the winner as Daniel Phillips volleyed home but straight from the kick-off, Reds’ substitute Archie Davies popped up with another equaliser with the last kick of the game to send the home contingent wild.
Unfortunately, the Reds were seen out of the Carabao Cup on penalties after a total of 20 spot-kicks.
Reds’ manager John Yems made six changes to the side for Tuesday night’s game at home to Gillingham as Ashford, Will Ferry, George Francomb, Ludwig Francillette, Tom Dallison and Noukeu came into the side.
The game began in a confusing and frustrating fashion for Crawley Town and, with the game barely three minutes old, Sithole converted in questionable circumstances. Noukeu jumped up to claim a high ball but was knocked over by the Gills’ forward, spilling the ball at the feet of the man in blue who poked home in frustration as both players waited for the referee to blow his whistle and award the Reds a free-kick. Unfortunately for the home side, this memo hadn’t reached the man in the middle and the goal was awarded leaving the whole ground somewhat bemused.
The Reds boasted control of the game despite the early setback and, while there were few chances, Crawley were the only side creating meaningful ones. Tyler Frost put a tempting ball across the face of goal that went untouched in the 13th minute before Jake Hessenthaler fired into the side netting from a tight angle a few minutes later.
Hessenthaler’s effort was shortly followed by Crawley’s best chance of the first half as Tony Craig powered a forceful header towards Aaron Chapman’s as yet unpenetrated net, but the veteran was equal to it, tipping it over the crossbar with his fingertips.
Crawley came out for the second half to an unrelenting wave of noise from the home crowd and, buoyed by the reception, rewarded the fans early into the final period. Francomb intercepted a Gillingham attack to start off a lovely Reds’ move that resulted in Ashford sliding home Ferry’s cross in the 58th minute.
Crawley remained in control as the game reached boiling point in the 77th minute. Francillette received a booking for a late challenge, but this was deemed more acceptable than Gillingham manager Steve Evans’ reaction to the foul and he was sent off by referee Paul Howard.
Following this incident, the visitors worked themselves back into the game and almost snatched the victory at the death, but Sithole couldn’t keep his effort on target from ten yards.
The Gills seemed to have secured victory when Phillips volleyed home a cutback in the 94th minute and all hope seemed dashed.
However, the Town players were not finished and, straight from the kick-off, Davies received Jack Powell’s pass inside the area and poked the ball under Chapman to take the game to penalties.
It was to be yet more heartbreak for Crawley as, after 18 penalties, Francillette saw his saved and The Gills converted the 20th penalty of the game to secure their place in the next round of the Carabao Cup.
The Reds’ attention now turns to next Tuesday night as they welcome Salford City to the People’s Pension Stadium.
REDS XI: Nna Noukeu, Dallison, Francillette, Craig, Francomb (C), Payne (Powell 88’), Hessenthaler, Ferry, Frost (Tilley 68’), Ashford (Davies 82’), Nadesan
UNUSED SUBS: Morris, Gallacher, Khaleel, Al-Hussaini