There were plenty of promising signs for Mark Yates as Crawley overcame Cambridge United 1-0 on a wet afternoon at the Checkatrade.com Stadium to make it seven home wins out of eight and, considering the circumstances, claim one of their best wins of the campaign.
A dominant home display was sealed when Matt Harrold’s strike separated the two sides, completing a double over their opponents for the Reds.
The boss named five changes to the defeat at Portsmouth with Jimmy Smith injured and Luke Rooney and Roarie Deacon dropping to the bench. Mitch Hancox and Josh Emmaunel returned to their parent clubs, whilst Lee Barnard, Gavin Tomlin, Ross Jenkins and Jon Ashton made starts.
There was also a place in the starting XI for Reds latest addition, George Smith, at left-back. The 19-year-old loanee has played 17 times for Barnsley in League One this season and was up against his former Tykes team-mate, Luke Berry, who returned to the U’s in the summer.
Crawley were looking to get the first three points of 2016 against the team they gathered their first win of the season against back in August.
In the opening 25 minutes the home side’s best chance of finding the net came from direct balls into the box. Deliveries from Simon Walton and the sweet left foot of Smith reached Matt Harrold on numerous occasions and the target man did well to hold up the ball. On 15 minutes he shielded the ball from the U’s defence for the oncoming Tomlin, who shot through a crowded box only to be parried by Will Norris.
Reds’ dominance paid off on 35 minutes when Lee Barnard’s low driven cross from the right met the boot of HARROLD, who slotted home passed a helpless Norris from six yards for his fifth goal of the season.
As the rain began to pour down the slippery surface made it tricky for both sets of players to judge the bounce. The quality of football, however, showed no sign of fading, especially from the Reds. Both full-backs combined with Gavin Tomin and Gwion Edwards, but the inch-perfect final ball was proving the obstacle preventing Crawley from grabbing a second.
Reds were in trouble in the early stages of the restart as Conor Newton’s knock down was met by Berry, whose 30-yard effort swerved away from the goal, clipping Darryl Flahavan’s left-hand post.
Midway into the second half the U’s had a ten-minute spell where they were putting Reds under pressure, but the towering home defence were first to every ball and prevented Flahavan from having to produce a save.
Harrold and Barnard looked like a proven strike partnership and both put in solid performances. Harrold could have opened the scoring even earlier when he found himself in on goal with a few yards on the chasing Darnel Furlong, but the right-back recovered, sticking a toe out to deny the striker.
The addition of Smith at left-back looks to be a smart bit of business by Reds and he certainly won the battle against Berry. The newcomer didn’t put a foot wrong all game and was a threat going forward, and impressive defensively chasing back and helping the back four clear their line.
Reds looked comfortable towards the latter stages of the game and cruised through four minutes of injury time to claim a well-deserved three points which lifted them to 13th in the League Two table.