The Hatters’ first League Two match in 10 days – following football’s suspension in the wake of The Queen’s passing – and inaugural meeting with Crawley saw them return from West Sussex in the small hours of the morning empty-handed, after being edged out by the odd goal in five.
With County yet to pick up a point on the road, and the hosting ‘Reds’ still without one on their own patch, something had to give. And so it did, as Crawley twice took a first-half lead before being pegged back by goals from Ollie Crankshaw and Chris Hussey – and then went ahead for the third, decisive time 11 minutes after the interval to claim victory.
The Hatters took to the field on a rainy evening, as Dave Challinor, for his 50th game in the managerial hot-seat, made two changes from the starting line-up at Edgeley Park against AFC Wimbledon. Akil Wight was handed his full league debut, and James Brown was recalled – in place, respectively, of Ryan Johnson, who was named among the County substitutes, and the injured Macauley Southam-Hales.
Following an impeccably-observed minute’s silence and a rendition of the National Anthem, County launched the contest’s first attack with a couple of minutes played – culminating in a shot from Brown that home goalkeeper Corey Addai parried around the left post.
Addai intervened again moments later to deny Crankshaw, who had been played through by acting skipper Antoni Sarcevic. But, having made a bright start, the Hatters were then undone by Crawley’s initial foray of note into their half.
James Balagizi started the hosts’ move in the middle of the pitch, before finding captain Tom Nichols in space – who, in turn, teed up James Tilley for a shot from the edge of the box that flew past Vit Jaros and into the bottom-left corner of the net for an early lead.
Within just over 10 minutes, the Hatters were back on level terms, as Kyle Wootton headed on for Sarcevic to thread another through-ball to Crankshaw – who, after steadying himself, slotted the ball home under Addai. And, shortly afterwards, Crankshaw went close to doubling his and County’s tallies when he latched on to a loose ball before lifting a shot that the ‘keeper tipped over.
The wet, greasy surface was proving a challenge – and to officials, as well as players, with Referee Hair taking a tumble midway through the half.
Shortly ahead of the half-hour, Nick Tsaroulla picked out Dom Telford six yards out. The home striker took a touch, but his eventual shot lacked pace and was comfortably collected by Jaros. Either side of that, at the other end, Sarcevic half-volleyed beyond Crawley’s right post, and Wootton prodded an attempt towards goal that was gathered up by Addai.
Ten minutes from half-time, the hosts were ahead again – after Wright’s pass in the area was intercepted by Nichols and laid off for Telford to roll in from close range.
HALF-TIME: Crawley 2 (Tilley, 5; Telford, 35), County 1 (Crankshaw, 16).
A free-kick for the Hatters two minutes after the resumption led to the new half’s first chance, as Hussey’s delivery from the right found Sarcevic – but the County captain’s attempt on goal squirmed beyond the near post.
But five minutes later, with his next dead-ball opportunity, Hussey adopted the direct approach – and it paid off, courtesy of a rocket into the top-right corner for his first goal as a Hatter and County’s second equaliser of the night.
The Hatters, alas, enjoyed parity for only four minutes – following which Tsaroulla fired into the bottom-right of County’s net from outside the box. And Addai, almost immediately afterwards, denied the Hatters a further leveller by keeping out Sarcevic’s volley from a Will Collar cross.
Some end-to-end fare ensued, as both sides looked to make an impression in the final third. Wootton, after cutting in from the right, saw his effort cleared upfield by Ludwig Francillette – before Crawley substitute Jack Powell fired narrowly wide of County’s right post.
But the remaining minutes – including six for added time – yielded little more of note, leaving the Hatters still to get off the mark, points-wise, on their travels.
This fixture also saw a piece of history made as County became the first English side to have played in competitive action against every current club in football’s top five tiers – from the Premier to the National Leagues, inclusive.
FULL-TIME: Crawley 3 (Tilley, 5; Telford, 35; Tsaroulla, 56), County 2 (Crankshaw, 16; Hussey, 52).
Team (4-2-2-2): Jaros; Brown, Lewis (Jennings, 65), Horsfall, Hussey (Evans, 90); Camps (Hippolyte, 83), Wright (Rydel, 65); Collar, Sarcevic (Capt.); Crankshaw, Wootton.
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, R. Johnson, Croasdale.
Attendance: 2,187 (376 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Ben Wright.