Crawley Town 2 Walsall 3: Reds fall to first league defeat in six

Crawley Town's Ashley Nathaniel-George. Picture by Steve Robards
Crawley Town's Ashley Nathaniel-George. Picture by Steve Robards

Crawley Town suffered their first League Two defeat in six matches following a 3-2 home loss against Walsall this (Saturday) afternoon.

A 30-yard rocket from captain James Clarke gave the Saddlers the lead on 14 minutes before Elijah Adebayo doubled the deficit on 27 minutes.

The Reds pulled a goal back from Ashley Nathaniel-George's spot-kick two minutes before the break. But Wes McDonald restored Walsall's lead just a minute later.

In a second half light on quality, Josh Payne struck a late consolation goal but it wasn't enough as Crawley tasted defeat for the first time since August 20.

Crawley Town topscorer Bez Lubala was dropped to the bench by head coach Gabriele Cioffi as part of four changes from Saturday's 2-2 draw at Northampton Town.

Ollie Palmer and George Francomb were absent from the match day squad, while Josh Doherty missed out through suspension. The quartet were replaced by Nathaniel-George, Panutche Camara, Dannie Bulman and David Sesay.

The opening ten minutes was a quiet affair. Both sides probed without creating anything clear cut.

But the game's deadlock was broken on 14 minutes after a thunderbolt from Saddlers skipper Clarke. Receiving the ball 30-yards from goal, the Walsall captain took a touch before unleashing a howitzer past Reds keeper Glenn Morris into the top corner to make it 1-0 to the visitors.

The Saddlers now had their tails up. Three minutes after the goal McDonald cut inside from out wide but his shot went straight down Morris' throat.

Crawley had a penalty claim turned down on 20 minutes. Reece Grego-Cox sped past Zak Jules before going down in the area but referee Sam Purkiss remained unmoved.

Grego-Cox then forced a corner two minutes later. The Irish winger fired a cross-cum-shot from a tight angle that Walsall keeper Liam Roberts could only punch over. From the corner, Nathan Ferguson found Tom Dallison but the defender's header lacked conviction and was easily claimed by Roberts.

Despite the Reds cranking up the pressure, the Saddlers doubled their advantage on 27 minutes. McDonald drove forward out on the flank before drilling a cut-back to Adebayo and the striker tapped home.

Crawley were struggling to impose themselves on the game and seemed to miss the presence of the injured Palmer and the benched Lubala.

Ten minutes before the break, the Reds had their first gilt-edged opportunity. A deflected Nathaniel-George shot fell to Mason Bloomfield in the box. The Norwich City loanee did well to round Roberts but his effort was superbly blocked and turned behind for a corner by two Walsall players.

But on 43 minutes the Reds were handed a lifeline. Bloomfield burst into the area but was brought down by keeper Roberts. Referee Purkiss thought long and hard about his decision but, to the relief of the home support, he pointed to the spot.

Up stepped Nathaniel-George. The winger was calmness personified as he swaggered up to the ball and coolly slotted home the penalty.

Crawley's joy was short lived. It took just a minute for Walsall to recover their lead. A marvellous pass from Rory Holden picked out McDonald and the midfielder cut inside once more, but this time fired a beautiful curled strike past Morris.

Unsurprisingly Lubala was thrown on as a half-time substitute to add some impetus to the Reds attack. But somewhat surprisingly he replaced goalscorer Nathaniel-George.

Lubala almost made an instant impact five minutes into the second half. The in-form striker let rip with a ferocious 30-yard strike that was mere millimetres past the post.

Lubala was in the thick of it again three minutes later. The sub found Ferguson on the edge of the box but the midfielder's first-time effort went well wide.

Despite the Reds early attacking intent the game fell into a bit of a lull. But Crawley did spark back into action on 63 minutes A Sesay cut-back found Grego-Cox but the the winger fired well over the crossbar.

In truth second period was a damp squib. The Reds had the majority of possession but couldn't carve open the Walsall defence while the visitors were content to mount a rearguard action.

With 15 minutes to go, Sesay darted into the area but he launched his strike well over the bar.

Lubala stung Roberts' fingertips on 82 minutes. The forward let fly with a thunderous strike that the Saddlers stopper could only tip over.

Payne fired home from outside the box to give the Reds a late, late consolation goal but it was too little, too late for Cioffi's charges.

Crawley Town: Morris, Sesay, Dallison, Tunnicliffe, Young, Bulman (Payne 63), Ferguson (Allarakhia 89), Grego-Cox, Camara, Nathaniel-George (Lubala 46), Bloomfield. Unused: Luyambula, Sendles-White, Galach, Boadu.

Referee: Sam Purkiss

Attendance: 2,275 (264 away)