Cambridge United were edged out 2-1 by Crawley Town in an action-packed Sky Bet League encounter, which ended with the U’s first defeat in six games.
The U’s had taken an early lead through Joe Ironside but goals from Max Watters just before the break and a second half header by Tom Nichols saw the hosts extend their impressive record to 14 games unbeaten.
The U’s made one change with Adam May forced to miss the fixture after a knock to the head earlier in the week, with Jack Iredale stepping into the starting eleven. United were boosted by the inclusion of Paul Mullin who made it through a late fitness test on his ankle.
The U’ were up against a side in Crawley who had only conceded one goal at home so far in the season, but it took just three minutes for Kyle Knoyle to deliver a text ook cross onto the head of Joe Ironside, who deftly flicked it beyond Glenn Morris to break the deadlock from six yards.
Mark Bonner’s men continued to carry a threat and were unlucky to not see either a deflected Hannant shot or Harrison Dunk’s effort at goal at close range from the resulting corner on 15 minutes, make their way in for a U’s second of the game.
Paul Mullin did find the back of the net shortly after, but it was promptly ruled out for a foul against Craig in the build-up.
Whilst the hosts certainly carried a threat and played some very tidy football when in possession, their only real opening had seen Tom Nichols sting the palms of Dimitar Miotv just after the half an hour mark, but United’s keeper dealt with the attempt well.
Bonner’s men came so close to doubling their lead as half time approached. Somehow Ironside backpost header on the end of an Iredale corner, couldn’t find its way past Morris who saved it with his knee at close range.
Paul Mullin did get the better of the Crawley keeper, lobbing him from the edge of the area but unfortunately for United Tony Craig recovered in time to produce an impressive header over the bar from virtually on the goal line.
Crawley threatened late in the half and although Mitov denied Jake Hesketh with a comfortable save from an effort at the edge of the area, the U’s keeper could not keep out a fierce first time shot from Max Watters eight yards out three minutes before the break.
United were a lick of paint away of restoring their lead within three minutes of the restart, when a cross from Leon Davies looped all the way over to Harrison Dunk but his header clattered the underside of the cross bar. Mullin couldn’t then get the better of Morris from the rebound.
Iredale continued where he left off in the first half, and fired in another excellent delivery ten minutes into the second half which Ironside wasn’t quite able to keep down on the target, as he ran across the front post.
However, the U’s went behind in the 56th minute when Tom Nichols wriggled free of his marker to head in Sam Matthews corner from a central position six yards out, which proved to be decisive.
Mark Bonner introduced Wes Hoolahan soon after in place of Joe Ironside, as United mixed things up for a way back into the game.
United quickly mounted a challenge and a sustained spell of pressure, and they struck the woodwork for a second time in the half on 68 minutes, this time Greg Taylor with a header from distance which had Morris well beaten.
James Hesketh was given his marching order five minutes from time for a reckless late challenge on Kyle Knoyle. United pushed forward with the extra man advantage all the way into seven minutes added time, but were unable to create an opening that could haul themselves level.
Crawley Town: Morris, Doherty, Francomb (Davies, 61 mins), Powell, Nichols, Tunnicliffe, Matthews (Frost, 73 mins), Craig, Hesketh, Watters (Nadeson, 51 mins), Hessenthaler
Bookings: Davies, Hesketh (Red)
Cambridge United: Mitov, Knoyle, Cundy, Taylor, Iredale, Davies (El Mizouni, 68 mins), Hannant, Boateng, Dunk (Knibbs, 76 mins), Ironside (Hoolahan, 62 mins), Mullin