Crawley fight back to grab a point

The Argus: Gary Alexander equalises Gary Alexander equalises

Crawley mounted a superb second half comeback as John Gregory’s first home game in charge ended in a 2-2 draw against Preston.

Early goals from Paul Huntington and Josh Brownhill had put Preston in control but Joe Walsh and Gary Alexander – in injury time - struck in the second half to rescue a point.

The result stretched their winless run in League One to nine games but Gregory will be encouraged by the character his players showed against an in-form Preston team.

The Reds boss will also feel mightily relieved after his decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation backfired before reverting to 4-4-2 with Preston already 2-0 up.

The saw Crawley climb a place to 15th in League One and will give them a much-needed boost ahead of their FA Cup replay against Bristol Rovers on Wednesday.

Gregory had sprung a surprise before kick-off by deciding to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation, bringing in James Hurst as the right wing-back with Mat Sadler on the other side.

The set up mirrored Preston’s tactics but it was obvious which team was more comfortable with the formation as the visitors raced into a 2-0 lead inside 16 minutes.

Huntington put the Lilywhites in front after just eight minutes when he rose above the Crawley defence to nod a corner from Scott Laird home off the underside of the bar.

Brownhill doubled the lead in the 16th minute when he raced on to a defence-splitting pass from John Welsh before composing himself to chip Paul Jones.

It could have been worse for Crawley as they nearly conceded from another corner, this time Tom Clarke heading Welsh’s cross wide.

Gregory had seen enough and brought on Andy Drury in place of Hurst after just 24 minutes and reverting to a more familiar 4-4-2 formation.

Crawley did improve slightly after the switch with Billy Clarke going close to pulling a goal back when he headed wide at the far post from a Nicky Adams cross.

But the visitors almost went 3-0 ahead before the interval when Laird raced on to a ball from Stuart Beavon and rifled in a shot which clipped the side netting.

Whatever Gregory said during the interval it obviously worked as Crawley took control of the game in the second half.

They struggled to break the visitors down, however, with a header from Gary Alexander which went over the bar the closest they came to pulling a goal back.

A home goal drought which lasted 359 minutes finally came to an end when Walsh made it 2-1 in the 65th minute. Connolly headed a free kick from Adams against the bar and Walsh reacted well to fire the loose ball home from ten yards.

Suddenly belief flowed back into the Crawley players with Sinclair having an effort blocked on the turn and Alexander a goal ruled out for offside after Sinclair’s shot had been parried by the keeper.

Preston were clinging on towards the end with Connolly firing a shot narrowly wide from 20 yards and Walsh hitting the outside of the post when another Adams free kick dropped to him in the area.

The equaliser finally arrived in the first minute of stoppage time as a corner from Adams was bundled home by Alexander from close range.

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