Crawley came out victors and returned to the automatic promotion place in a feisty encounter at Bradford City’s Valley Parade.
A 1pm departure time for a 7.45pm kick-off sounded daunting, especially when you knew it would be a 10 hour round trip to an ex-Premier League side.
As soon as we arrived we decided to take a look at the memorial for those who lost their lives in the 1985 fire where 56 people died during a game against Lincoln City.
Once inside, the large ground seemed echoed but was very impressive; opposite us was a huge stand that seemed to go on forever, it’s just a shame that it doesn't get filled to capacity these days.
Crawley took a while to get going with both teams looking to see who would make the first move. The first real chance fell to the home side as Kyle McFadzean’s slip allowed Barnsley loanee Chris Dagnall to strike a left footed effort just over the bar, but City fans claimed that goalkeeper Michel Kuipers got a touch on the shot.
The Bantams had another chance to score soon after on 14 minutes when Craig Fagan’s shot took a deflection off of Pablo Mills, who slid in to block and the ball almost looped into the net; Kuipers had to be alert to flick it round the post.
The visitors had their first chance of the game as Sergio Torres leaped highest to meet a cross, but saw his header fall into the grateful arms of keeper Jon McLoughlin. The Reds had another effort on McLoughlin’s goal as Torres tried a curling effort but could only find the goalkeeper’s hands again.
Minutes before half time, midfielder Scott Davies raced clear of Matt Fry but his ball in failed to find either Gary Aexander or Leon Clarke who were lurking in the box. The sides went in at half-time level at 0-0.
As the teams reappeared for the second half, Crawley looked to take the game to their opponents. Clarke broke the offside trap and went clean through on goal, but defender Andrew Davies raced across to tackle the former QPR man excellently.
Minutes later the goal did come as Scott Davies’ pinpoint free kick found the head of Clarke, whose clean downward header went inbetween McLoughlin’s legs and into the back of the net.
OPENER: Leon Clarke opens the scoring and celebrates below
Steve Evans’ side went close again as Davies got the better of Fry and picked out Torres in the area but his shot was once again held by McLoughlin – anywhere else and it would have been 2-0.
Bradford looked to rally and soon grabbed an equaliser as winger Kyle Reid whipped in a free-kick and Dagnall gave Kuipers no chance with a powerful header.
It didn’t take the Red Devils long to get their second, and eventually winning, goal as Davies earned his second assist of the game. The marauding midfielder beat Fry once more to get to the byline and played a floating ball to Alexander at the back post to slightly stoop and head past McLoughlin, sending the away stand into raptures.
Alexander can't stop scoring!
From here on in, Crawley had to withstand heavy Bantams pressure as Phil Parkinson brought on energetic attacker Nahki Wells. However, blocks from substitute Claude Davis, Mills and McFadzean kept the score as it was and, despite referee Iain Williamson adding on five minutes at the end of the game, Reds hung on for another win; their fourth in a row as they moved up to third place.
Moments after the whistle blew all hell broke loose, as a melee ensued between the two teams. Unconfirmed reports suggest that it began on the touchline before escalating on the pitch. Punches were thrown and after a few minutes the teams were separated.
It later emerged five players had been sent off in the changing rooms by the referee – three from Bradford (Andrew Davies, Jon McLoughlin and Luke Oliver) and two from Crawley (Claude Davis and Pablo Mills).
All in all, it was a very accomplished performance, a gritty win and the three points that Crawley crucially needed.
This Saturday sees us head to manager-less Burton Albion, who, before Tuesday night hadn't won in 18 league games. It will be trickier than expected with bans to Mills, Davis and now McFadzean.
GONE FOR A BURTON: The Brewers are next
Photos courtesy of www.crawleytownfc.com and Crawley Town Supporters Alliance