Cambridge United were made to rue missed opportunities in a game they largely dominated against Crawley Town, but instead saw goals from Luke Gambin and Ollie Palmer inflict a painful 2-0 defeat in Sky Bet League Two.
The U’s lined up with two changes as Ade Azeez and George Taft, stepped in for the injured Jabo Ibehre and the suspended Jake Carroll.
Liam O’Neil buried a shot from eight yards out on 11 minutes which looked to have given United the lead, only for the offside flag to be raised and chalk the goal off, although the opportunity sparked a dominant first 45 minutes into life.
The midfielder went close with a header minutes later, when directing a curling Azeez delivery back across goal that saw Crawley keeper Glenn Morris scramble to catch. The Red Devils’ shot stopper was again called into action, producing a sublime save to push George Maris’ curling effort that looked destined for the top corner over the top on 15 minutes.
United continued to look promising and the more threatening of the sides through the midway stage of the half, with the runs of Ade Azeez and Jevani Brown in behind the Crawley defence being found with regularity and opening opportunities on goal.
Brown perhaps had the U’s best opportunity, when yet another fantastic passing move carved the Crawley defence open and Lambe slid in his fellow forward, who was denied the chance to place his shot into the net by Morris who was quick to close him down.
Brad Halliday was almost rewarded for dogged pressing high up the field, when dispossessing the hosts inside the area but unfortunately his shot which looked to have been planted beyond Morris, ricocheted off the behind of Azeez and allowed Crawley to clear the danger.
United’s dominance of the opening 45 minutes only increased as the half wore on though, with Louis John grazing the outside of the Crawley net and Greg Taylor thwarted by Morris with a pair of headers from back to back corners.
After the break United were again left scratching their heads as to how they did not own an advantage on the scoreline, with Morris saving Azeez’s drilled shot at the near post before O’Neil’s stabbed attempt was blocked by the outstretched foot of the goalkeeper.
David Forde was forced into his first real save of match on the hour mark and it was a good one, when the Irishman got his hands behind the powerful strike at the near post by Palmer.
The second period was a more level affair, although United still looked just as threatening when moving forward.
However, the hosts broke the deadlock on 72 minutes when Luke Gambin twisted and turned to open room for a shot that squirmed between two United defenders, off the turf and into the U’s net.
In a devastating six minutes for the U’s, they fell behind to a second when Ollie Palmer shrugged off challenges by Halliday and John before picking out the bottom corner with 12 minutes to play.
The U’s looked to have hope in the game when substitute David Amoo’s cross found Azeez at the back post, but the striker’s attempt was miraculously blocked by Mark Connolly off the goal line, protecting Crawley’s two goal cushion which inflicted another loss on United.
Crawley Town: Morris, Young, Payne, Connolly, Palmer, Poleon (Camara, 57 mins), Gambin (Francomb, 86 mins), Maguire, Morais, Randall (Allarakhia, 65 mins), N’Gala
Cambridge United: Forde, Halliday, Taft, John, Taylor, Deegan, O’Neil (Amoo, 74 mins), Lambe, Maris, Brown, Azeez
Bookings: Lambe, Maris
Attendance: 2,151 (414)