Crawley Town suffered yet another agonising result at home as Mansfield Town took the points home on Saturday afternoon.
Ollie Hawkins opened the scoring in the 24th minute when he was left with too much space and finished off Ryan Stirk's cross.
After a poor first half, it didn’t take the Reds long to equalise in the second period as James Tilley netted a stunning strike from the edge of the box for his fourth goal in as many games.
Mansfield retook the lead in the 72nd minute when Rhys Oates collected a through ball and slotted home what proved to be the winner.
Crawley Town boss John Yems named the same starting 11 for the third game in a row but was forced to switch the bench around, replacing the injured Will Ferry with Mark Marshall and bringing in Joel Lynch in place of Alex Battle. Additionally, Yems kept the 4-4-2 system that had been so successful against Barrow and Newport.
The opening ten minutes were very even although Mansfield had the best chances with their early corner kicks. Two of these looked dangerous but Kwesi Appiah was on hand on both occasions to clear the danger and prove there is nothing he cannot do.
The Reds carved out a couple of half-chances for themselves over the next 15 minutes but were yet to trouble Nathan Bishop in the Stags net. Jack Powell and Appiah almost recreated a carbon copy of the Ghanaian’s goal on Tuesday night, but Powell’s cross fell just in front of Appiah, rather than finding his head.
Despite these chances, it was hard to argue against Mansfield’s dominance. The Nottinghamshire side were using their size and strength to make things difficult for Crawley and George Lapslie was breaking up almost every attack the Reds could muster in the middle of the park.
This dominance earned its reward in the 24th minute when Stirk and Elliott Hewitt played a one-two, creating space for Stirk to put in a deep cross that Hawkins had the time and space to poke home at the back post to break the deadlock and give the Stags their deserved lead.
Mansfield were settled now and found it very easy to deal with a Crawley side who hadn’t got going in the first half. The game’s tempo slowed and neither side was doing much more than sending it long for their forwards to (unsuccessfully) chase.
After one of their least creative halves of the season, Crawley headed back to the dressing room and were no doubt faced by an unhappy Yems who must have had some choice words for his players.
Whether those words were angry, born from disappointment, or encouraging, they were nonetheless constructive and effective as the Reds began the second half looking like a completely different side.
It took just over a minute for Crawley to equalise, and it came from the brilliant boot of Tilley – the hero of this fixture last season. After some patient and measured build-up play on the edge of the Mansfield penalty box, Tilley collected the ball and sent a beautiful strike that curled away from Bishop and into the far corner.
Crawley almost took the lead just minutes later when Jake Hessenthaler’s cross was caught by the wind and almost crept into the top corner, cracking the woodwork instead; but despite still only being on level terms, the Reds had significantly improved.
Things continued in an even fashion and the two sides engaged in back-and-forth football, but chances were few and far between until the game saw its third goal.
Hawkins played a clever pass around Ludwig Francillette to set Oates through on goal. The man who terrorised the National League last season was left with a simple one-on-one chance and the striker delivered, rolling the ball into the far corner.
Mansfield could now sit back and defend their lead. In doing so, they were now frustrating Crawley who were creating chances but still failing to trouble Bishop.
Crawley almost snatched a point when Appiah leapt highest and, with his back to goal, headed the ball goalward but his late effort, for the second game in a row, clipped the crossbar in extra time at the end of the game.
The Stags took the points back to Nottinghamshire and the Reds were left empty-handed. They now have ten days to prepare for their next match which is away at Walsall.
REDS XI: Morris, Davies, Francomb, Craig, Powell, Nadesan (Grego-Cox 79’), Frost (Nichols 46’), Tilley (Lynch 93’), Francillette, Appiah, Hessenthaler
UNUSED SUBS: Noukeu, Kowalczyk, Bansal-McNulty, Marshall
ATTENDANCE: 1824 (232 away)