Kyle Wootton bagged a brace under the lights at Edgeley Park, as the Hatters edged out Crawley Town by the odd goal in three to continue their winning February run.
They had to come from behind for their third successive victory of the month, after the visiting ‘Red Devils’ took an early lead. But this was promptly cancelled out by Wootton – who added a second after half-time to overtake Paddy Madden as County’s leading scorer in all competitions for 2022/23.
County took to the field on a clear Valentine’s night, and with a line-up unaltered from that which had started at Harrogate three days earlier. Ryan Croasdale, for the second game running, took the captain’s armband in the continued absence of Madden – while there was one change on the bench, as Ryan Johnson replaced the injured Aaron Rowe.
Crawley, the only Football League side without a victory on the road in 2022/23, and making a first-ever visit to SK3, fashioned the inaugural attempt on goal with three minutes on the clock – courtesy of Teddy Jenks, whose low shot from the edge of the box was deflected past the left post.
Kyle Knoyle then unleashed a delivery from the right that visiting goalkeeper Corey Addai, at full stretch, caught in front of the near post – before Dom Telford blazed over at the other end. But, after eight minutes, another Crawley foray proved of greater significance, as Croasdale brought down Jenks 25 yards out, and the consequential free-kick by Jack Powell flew into the top-right corner of the net.
The visitors’ advantage lasted only four minutes – during which they came close to doubling it, when skipper Ben Gladwin was denied on the line by Neill Byrne – as a mix-up in their defence between Dion Conroy and Ludwig Francillete let in Tanto Olaofe, who squared from the left for Wootton to roll home the equaliser and his 10th league goal of the season.
Around the first half’s mid-point, Olaofe beat the offside trap to go one-on-one with Addai – who parried the striker’s shot, before smothering Will Collar’s follow-up from the left. And just after the half-hour, a dipping effort by Gladwin narrowly cleared the County crossbar.
Seven minutes before the break, Olaofe showed tremendous pace as he broke down the right, before cutting in and drilling across a delivery that Conroy deflected behind. And either side of the announcement for five minutes of added time, the Hatters earned four corners in quick succession – albeit without quite being able to find a final, critical touch.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Wootton, 12), Crawley 1 (Powell, 8).
County replaced one Ryan with another – introducing Rydel for Croasdale – upon the resumption. And four minutes later, Croasdale’s captaining counterpart, Gladwin, ceased his involvement as he limped off to be replaced.
Both skippers, then, were watching from the sidelines as the Hatters got their noses in front for the first time – with Wootton bagging his, and County’s, second after connecting with a Chris Hussey cross from the left to send a looping header over Addai and into the net.
The visitors went close to getting back on level terms just before the hour-mark, when Kellan Gordon’s low shot from outside the box struck the left post. And Wootton, in turn, came close to claiming the match-ball, as his header, following Knoyle’s cross from the right, was glanced beyond the far upright.
Crawley continued to press until the end, and the Hatters were grateful to Hussey in the closing stages for deflecting over a fierce, angled shot from the left by substitute Aramide Oteh.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Wootton, 12 and 51), Crawley 1 (Powell, 8).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Byrne, Hussey; Knoyle, Camps, Croasdale (Capt.) (Rydel, 46), Collar, Hippolyte; Wootton, Olaofe (Stretton, 74).
Unused Subs: Jaros, Evans, R. Johnson, Lewis, Grayson.
Booked: Croasdale, Hippolyte.
Man of the Match: Wootton.
Attendance: 7,020 (155 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.