Crawley suffered heartbreak on Saturday afternoon following a narrow loss at home to Sutton United after putting in a strong performance.
Substitute Isaac Olaofe scored the winner after a mix-up in the Crawley penalty area left him with the simplest of headers, which he converted in the 84th minute.
Crawley’s best chance of the game came minutes earlier when Nick Tsaroulla was bowled over in the penalty area, winning a spot-kick. Unfortunately, Tom Nichols couldn’t convert in what proved to be a decisive moment in the game.
The Reds started almost as well as they could have hoped against a Sutton side who could do nothing more than watch Crawley play rings around them. Nichols was wreaking havoc on former red Rob Milson – now playing left-back – and should’ve won a penalty and could’ve scored another within the first eight minutes of the game.
After twisting Milson inside out, the 34-year-old was forced to drag Crawley’s striker to the ground just five yards from goal, but all appeals were waved away by referee Tom Nield. Nichols' effort on goal came from a similar position to where he was fouled but United goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis was equal to it, parrying the ball away with a strong hand.
Sutton began to grow into the game and registered their first dangerous shot in the 20th minute. Following a foul by Tom Dallison on the edge of the box – which saw the defender booked – Milsom rattled a powerful free-kick at goal which was tipped over the bar by the fingertips of Glenn Morris.
Kwesi Appiah and Tsaroulla faced the same fate as Nichols in the space of five minutes as, on either side of the half-hour mark, they were dragged to the ground inside the penalty area with no acknowledgment from the officials.
Morris was next called into action by a thundering effort from Richie Bennett who – from just a few yards south of the centre circle – sent the ball sailing towards the top corner. The appropriately nicknamed ‘Cat’ leapt towards the ball and clawed it away in a picturesque motion.
Things began to get a little tense under the Saturday sun as tempers and frustrations showed signs of flaring up as the number of niggly challenges and their forcefulness increased as the half came to a close.
As expected, the fiery tempo continued into the second period but, unfortunately, the number of chances being created did not. It took almost until the hour-mark for either side to fashion a clear shot at goal, this first effort came courtesy of Will Ferry. George Francomb took the ball off his man inside his own half and began driving forward. After playing a one-two with Nichols, the Crawley captain found Ferry with a perfectly weighted through ball, but the young winger couldn’t muster up enough power to trouble Bouzanis.
Sutton registered their first dangerous chance in the 65th minute when substitute Olaofe managed to scamper past his marker and take aim on the turn from close range. Fortunately for the Reds’ defence, he could only slice his shot wide of the mark.
The Reds were presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead when, finally, the Reds were awarded a penalty after David Ajiboye knocked Tsaroulla over. Nichols stepped up to the spot but sent a tame effort just left of centre which was saved by Bouzanis, and the game remained goalless.
This did not remain the case for long as, in the 84th minute, Olaofe capitalised on a defensive mix-up as Nichols and Morris collided and the Sutton player simply headed the ball into an empty net.
Ludwig Francillette almost grabbed a late equaliser for the Reds but again Bouzanis was equal to it and the visitors held on for all three points.
Attention now turns to Tuesday night when Crawley welcome Exeter City to The People’s Pension Stadium.
REDS XI: Morris, Francomb, Craig, Dallison, Powell (Francillette 66’), Nichols, Ferry (Nadesan 65’), Appiah, Tsaroulla, Payne, Hessenthaler
UNUSED SUBS: Curtis-Henry, Ashford, Bansal-McNulty, Marshall