SWINDON Town were made to pay for a lapse in concentration and wasteful finishing as Izale McLeod gave Crawley a win from the spot at the Broadfield Stadium on Saturday.
The game’s crux came in the 51st minute. Louis Thompson was shown a straight red card and the home side awarded their penalty after the Town youngster chased down McLeod and brought down the onrushing forward in the Swindon box. Having penalised Thompson, referee James Linington gave himself little choice but to dismiss the Town man.
However it did look as if Thompson had got the ball, albeit challenging from the wrong side, and, as Mark Cooper pointed out post-match, the referee’s standpoint was barely in the same half as the action when he made his mind up.
To gripe about a penalty decision, however crucial, though would be to miss the point.
Firstly, though little consolation, Town were by far the most pleasurable of the two sides to watch and even with 10 men looked the most likely to score.
Secondly, as much credit as their performance deserves they failed to find the net. A sum of 26 shots and 16 corners that does not equal a goal in 90 minutes is poor maths whichever way you want to multiply it.
Far too often Town would get into advantageous positions and miss the pass, or even the pass before the pass. Where Massimo Luongo and Nathan Byrne have provided against Luton and Scunthorpe respectively, they failed against Crawley.
Jack Barthram, starting in place of the injured Brad Smith, as the only change from the Luton win, for all his clever movement did not provide balance on the left. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed, hopefully by the Liverpool loanee’s earlier than expected return.
Being overly critical of Town though would be unfair, few Town fans could say they left Crawley frustrated by effort or lack of entertainment.
Initially Crawley looked to have served up a nice green surface, though as the first half progressed it actually proved to be very heavy and certainly could have done with a pre-match water. Though given Crawley’s problems with postponed fixtures last season no doubt Cooper would still agree it was the best time of year for his technically inclined side to visit.
For the first 35 minutes that appeared the case as Town played sharp incisive football, with Yaser Kasim spreading the ball nicely from the middle, Ben Gladwin’s footwork and positioning causing the home side’s defence problems, as well as Luongo buzzing around, using his strength on the half turn to keep defenders backing off.
It was one of those balls from Iraqi international Kasim that found Nathan Byrne on the right. His cross instigated Town’s first chance despite missing Michael Smith in the middle, as Barthram nodded it back in but Town’s number nine looped his header over Brian Jensen’s goal under little pressure.
Louis Thompson then tested Jensen from 30 yards after a typical break from the halfway line. The Crawley keeper was up to challenge but the run and strike was encouraging as Thompson did not seem to be hampered by the dead leg that threatened to rule him out.
Although mostly on the back foot Crawley looked most creative down Town’s left. It was from there the hosts first showed their teeth. A Luongo pass was held up, allowing Gwion Edwards to break but he over hit his cross with McLeod well placed.
Town then stepped up a gear. A Kasim drive from distance lead to Town maintaining some sustained pressure. Crawley failed to deal with the resulting corner and Jensen had to be smart to push away Luongo’s firm header. Byrne was able to redeliver the ball to a dangerously positioned Gladwin whose goal bound shot was deflected away. All the invention was coming from Town’s right where Byrne required Ryan Dickson and Sonny Bradley’s full concentration. The nippy wing-back always looking for an overload or to beat his man.
In-form Smith looked sharp in the opening half. He worked himself a couple of good shooting opportunities, the best coming after a feed from Luongo but Crawley’s backline always seemed on hand to charge him down.
Tomlin had Crawley’s first real scoring chance of the half as the impressive Edwards’ break and threatening ball across the six yard box from Town’s left was only partially cleared.
Crawley recycled the ball, which fell to Gavin Tomlin on the edge of area and his effort saw Foderingham save well down to his right.
A couple of minutes later McLeod had the best opening from either side in the first half. Three Town defenders misjudged Dickson’s cross from the left leaving the Crawley danger man with a free header, which he inexplicably nodded over.
The home side finished the half on the up, Tomlin giving the travelling Town fans a scare with the break nearing.
Latching on to another ball over the top, the Crawley man rounded Foderingham before hitting the deck. Linington was having none of it and booked Tomlin, though arguably the tug from Nathan Thompson in the build up was a more legitimate penalty claim.
The second half began with Town on top. Smith getting off an early shot as the away side looked to resume their pressure but seeing his effort is deflected over for a corner.
However Crawley’s decisive breakthrough came less than 10 minutes later from the spot.
Jensen’s long clearance after a Town corner sailed over the defence and into Mcleod’s path, Louis Thompson appeared to make the tackle but the penalty was awarded.
From the spot McLeod dispatched this third goal in three games, sending Foderingham the wrong way.
With more space Crawley began exploiting Bathram’s defensive inexperience down the left, allowing Edwards too much room, too often.
Despite playing with 10, Town continued to play their passing game and second half substitute Andy Williams tested Crawley’s defence with a couple of purposeful runs which kept his side on the front foot, earning a number of corners which Swindon largely wasted.
Crawley remained prepared to sit back and soak up pressure from the away side who continued to pour forward but without the incision of the first half.
Late on, Crawley’s numbers seemed to tell as they came close to doubling their lead on a couple of occasions.
They came within inches of doing so as the clocked ticked towards 80 minutes. Edwards cracked a strike against the bar when well placed after his initial goal-bound shot was blocked by Jordan Turnbull, with Byrne was exposed in the build-up.
A late corner saw Foderingham venture forward in search of goal but it would not come.
That level of effort for no reward angered the Town players to the extent none were available for post-match comment. Cooper’s side will certainly play worse and win this season, reason enough perhaps for frustration and optimism.