Dean Saunders remains confident about Crawley’s survival prospects despite a harsh 1-0 defeat at Bradford.

An early goal from Francois Zoko ended Reds’ mini revival and left Reds still two points adrift of safety ahead of the visit of League One leaders Bristol City on Saturday.

But the interim manager saw enough in their performance to convince him that Crawley can climb the table.

He said: “It’s hugely frustrating because we played some good stuff on an awful pitch and the goal we gave away was a gift really.

“We had some chances and Izale (McLeod) has put a really good header wide near the end. It’s disappointing because I felt we deserved something but we have to move on. There’s still 12 games to go and I definitely feel we are moving in the right direction.”

Saunders had made one change to the Reds’ line-up with Ryan Dickson, who had a slight stomach strain, on the bench as Darren Ward came into central defence and Sonny Bradley moved to left back.

The notorious Valley Parade pitch was cut up badly after the warm-up and in the early stages both sides struggled to find any fluency.

But Crawley fell behind in the softest possible manner on nine minutes and accusing fingers pointed at goalkeeper Lewis Price rather than the surface.

He failed to claim a routine cross from the right and Francois Zoko, a player Saunders tried to sign during the transfer window, outmuscled Lewis Young to send a looping header into an empty net.

Reds have become solid and hard to break down in recent weeks so the concession of such a poor goal would have angered Saunders.

Bradford sensed vulnerability in the visitors’ ranks and for the next 20 minutes or so penned Crawley back, without forcing Price to make any saves of note.

Zoko and the equally powerful James Hanson were causing problems, particularly when they isolated Young on the right. Saunders changed to a 3-5-2 on the half-hour and gradually Reds began to get a foothold in the contest.

They started to compete on equal terms in midfield and Lee Fowler thought he had equalised on 39 minutes when he bent a free kick from 22 yards over the wall only for Jordan Pickford to fling himself to his right to push the ball to safety.

Rain greeted the players at the re-start making conditions worse and both teams struggled to get any sort of momentum for the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Andy Halliday made a purposeful break into the box for the hosts before lashing his shot over before Crawley began to make some headway and captain for the night McLeod forced James Meredith to clear his header off the line only to be penalised for a shove on Pickford.

Saunders made a double change with 20 minutes to go when Dickson and Morgan replaced Mathias Pogba and seconds later McLeod was inches away from equalising when his 20-yard drive was deflected past a helpless Pickford.

Crawley’s top scorer squandered an even better opportunity with seven minutes to go. Gavin Tomlin’s diagonal ball picked him out at the far post but with just Pickford to beat from close range he headed agonisingly wide.

By then Saunders had pushed Sonny Bradley up front but Bradford saw out the closing minutes on a frustrating night for Crawley.

Reds: Price 5; Young (Dickson 69) 5, Wood 8, Ward 7, Bradley 7; Tomlin 6, Wordsworth 6, Fowler 8, Edwards 6; Pogba (Morgan 69) 6, McLeod 7. Subs not used: Jensen, Smith, Anderson, Bawling, O’Connor.

Booked: Bradley, Fowler, Wordsworth.

Bradford City: Pickford, Darby, McArdle, MacKenzie, Meredith; Routis (Sheehan 69), Yeates, Dolan (Knott 76), Halliday; Hanson (Stead 69), Zoko. Subs not used: Williams, Clarke, Kennedy, Burke.

Referee: Darren Drysdale 6

Attendance: 11,683 (45 Crawley)