U’s beaten by 10-man Crawley

Harry Pell, who scored a quality brace in Colchester United's 3-0 win at Port Vale. Picture: PAGEPIX

Harry Pell, who scored a quality brace in Colchester United's 3-0 win at Port Vale. Picture: PAGEPIX LTD - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Crawley Town 2 Colchester United 0

Colchester United suffered a potentially big blow to their promotion hopes, when sliding to defeat at 10-man Crawley Town this afternoon.

The U’s looked in a good position to take all three points, when home defender Joe McNerney was sent off with an hour still to play.

But not only did the stuttering U’s fail to capitalise on their hosts’ plight, but they also conceded what proved to be a winning goal, courtesy of Luke Gambin’s fine strike in the 61st minute.

Gambin rubbed salt into the wounds by firing home a second, from a free-kick, in stoppage time, after Frankie Kent had been sent off for two bookable offences.

McNerney was sent off on the half-hour mark, having ploughed into the onrushing Harry Pell with a very reckless challenge.

The Crawley centre-half was perhaps hoping to escape with just a yellow card, but he was flashed a red instead by referee Andy Davies, with Pell writhing in agony on the floor.

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Despite enjoying a numerical advantage, it was the U’s who conceded via Gambin’s wonder strike, and they could find no way back into the game.

To make matters worse, Gambin drilled home a killer second in the second minute of injury time, after Kent had fouled Dominic Poleon and been duly sent off for two yellows.

The U’s have therefore taken just one point from a possible nine, in three games, since their excellent 1-0 win at MK Dons, three days before Christmas.

Crawley had only take one point from their previous five matches, but they turned the tables on their high-ranked visitors, and they fully deserved it.

The U’s showed two changes from the side that were held to a goalless home draw by Morecambe on Saturday.

Pell was recalled in midfield, with Brandon Comley returning to the bench, while Tom Eastman started in a three-man central defence, Brennan Dickenson making way.

For Crawley, their star man and leading scorer Ollie Palmer was serving the fifth and last of a lengthy five-match suspension.

Buoyed by their previous away game, a terrific 1-0 win at second-placed MK Dons before Christmas, the U’s looked comfortable on the ball early on and an opportunist 25-yarder from Tom Lapslie flew straight at keeper Glenn Morris on two minutes.

Sammie Szmodics had a sight of goal, from a set piece, in the 12th minute, but his header lacked power and Morris easily gobbled it up. Szmodics had not scored since November, a month which had yielded him three goals and a player-of-the-month nomination.

Similarly, Luke Norris was searching for his first goal since netting against Crawley in a 3-1 home win on October 13. He did have a half-chance in the 19th minute, but delayed too long and his shot was easily charged down and collected by Morris.

Norris came far closer to scoring in the 26th minute, as his header from Ryan Jackson’s deep cross thudded off the bar.

Four minutes later and Crawley were reduced to 10 men, due to McNerney’s rash challenge on Pell which earned him a straight red card.

Not surprisingly, Pell was the pantomime villain for the rest of the afternoon, in the eyes of Crawley’s home fans. The U’s midfielder was roundly booed, every time he was on the ball, bur McNerney’s challenge on him was very late, and was committed right in front of referee Andy Davies.

The U’s bossed possession for the remainder of the half, and they peppered the target in the 43rd minute. Szmodics had a shot blocked by a defender, and a follow-up long-range thunderbolt by Pell was smothered by Morris.

McGreal made a change for the start of the second half, with attacker Courtney Senior replacing centre-half Luke Prosser. The U’s therefore reverted to a back four, against the 10 men, with Senior looking to make an impression on the left wing.

Szmodics cracked in a goal-bound shot in the 52nd minute, which might have beaten keeper Morris, but defender Josh Doherty obliged with a vital block.

But it was Crawley who took the lead, thanks to Gambin’s spectacular angled drive which flew into the bottom far corner of the net, just after the hour mark.

The U’s struggled to get their game together, substitute Senior blazing high and wide in the 74th minute, and Nouble striking a 25-yarder narrowly over, four minutes later.

Kent was sent off in the first minute of injury time, for a foul, and Gambin blasted home his second from the ensuing free-kick.


CRAWLEY: Morris, Francomb, McNerney, Connolly, Doherty, Sesay, Payne (for Bulman, 80), Gambin, Grego-Cox, Poleon, Camara. Unused subs: Mersin, Nathaniel-George, Maguire, Allarakhia, N’Gala.

COLCHESTER: Gilmartin, Eastman, Prosser (sub Senior, 46), Kent, Jackson, Lapslie (for Mandron, 66), Pell, Vincent-Young (sub Dickenson, 58), Szmodics, Nouble, Norris. Unused subs: Barnes, Kensdale, Gondoh, Comley.

Referee: Andy Davies (Hants)

Attendance: 2,765 (456 away fans)

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