Ten-man Crawley Town were eventually overrun by high-flying Port Vale as a flurry of late goals condemned the Reds to defeat on Saturday afternoon.
The Reds were reduced to ten men with just 12 minutes on the clock. Joel Lynch received his marching orders after an altercation with Nathan Smith in the opposition box. After some deliberation with his assistant, referee Trevor Kettle swiftly produced the red card which set the Red’s uphill battle in motion.
After defending hard for 45 minutes, the Reds took a shock lead through Kwesi Appiah who headed home Jack Powell’s cross for his fifth goal of the month.
The lead didn’t last long however as, with the first action of the second half, Vale’s captain Tom Conlon fired a free-kick past Glenn Morris to draw his side level in the 49th minute.
A second and third were added in quick succession through Tom Pett and George Francomb's own goal before David Amoo added a fourth with the last kick of the game.
Crawley Town boss John Yems made two changes to the side that lost out away at Scunthorpe United last weekend, replacing Jack Payne and Amrit Bansal-McNulty with Will Ferry and Tyler Frost. This also allowed for a change of starting formation as the Reds lined up in a 4-4-2 instead of last week’s 4-3-1-2.
The opening ten minutes were largely dominated by the visitors who fired goalward three times in these first exchanges. James Wilson – who many might remember from his time as a youth player at Manchester United or Brighton and Hove Albion, or from Salford City away last season when he netted against the Reds – stung the palms of Glenn Morris twice from just outside the box and Mal Benning also unleashed but couldn’t hit the target.
Kwesi Appiah was the only man who mustered up a reply in the first minutes but his effort, like Benning’s, was wide of the mark.
The next action saw the Reds receive the red. After a free-kick was cleared, Lynch and Smith tussled in the box and the Crawley centre back elbowed his marker. The motion was spotted by the linesman on that side which meant Lynch was sent for an early bath.
This left Crawley all but hanging on in the match, Appiah made a couple of good runs forward but couldn’t find the final pass on either occasion.
Vale were in control until the 45th minute. The possession stats told the story perfectly – a 70%/30% split in the visitor’s favour at halftime – but they had little to show for their efforts, their best chance coming in the 20th minute when Conlon fired a rocket towards the bottom corner that was saved spectacularly by Morris.
The Reds spent the rest of the half defending valiantly and counter-attacking the visitors when they got the chance. One such counter was successfully finished (the epitome of 'against the run of play') by Appiah who found himself unmarked inside the six-yard box and headed home Powell’s deep cross.
Crawley were pegged back more than they had been all afternoon after this and found themselves under a renewed siege of attacks from a reenergised Port Vale side but they held out until Kettle’s halftime whistle.
Kettle’s whistle signalled the beginning of the end for the Reds and their lead was cancelled out just minutes into the second half. Conlon and Dennis Politic stood over a free kick on the edge of the box and the Vale captain fired it past Morris with his left foot.
Frost, making his return to the squad, could’ve won his side a penalty when his effort appeared to strike the arm of Benning inside the visitor’s box, but the officials were unmoved.
Vale almost took the lead twice in as many minutes when substitute Jake Taylor put his header from close range wide of the mark in the 72nd minute and Dan Jones sent a knuckleball-esque shot goalward that forced the second spectacular save of the afternoon from Morris in the 74th minute.
However, the high-flying visitors couldn’t be kept out for much longer as, in the 75th minute, the ball was laid back to Pett on the penalty spot, leaving the midfielder with the simplest of tasks as he slotted the ball home.
The lead was almost doubled just minutes later when George Lloyd found himself one-on-one with Morris but was denied by yet another stunning save by the Cat.
Vale added that third in the 80th minute when Amoo drilled in a low cross that was turned home by Francomb as he tried to intercept the cross.
Amoo then added a fourth after taking the ball around Morris with almost the last kick of the game. Attention now turns to next Saturday’s FA Cup game against Tranmere Rovers.
REDS XI: Morris, Tsaroulla, Lynch, Craig, Francomb (C) (Payne 83’), Ferry (Davies 78’), Hessenthaler, Powell, Frost (Marshall 65’), Appiah, Nichols
UNUSED SUBS: Nna Noukeu, Rodari, Ashford
ATTENDANCE: 2234 (389 away)