Match report: Crawley Town 2 PNE 1

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Preston North End’s automatic promotion hopes took another blow as they slipped to an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to rock-bottom Crawley at the Broadfield Stadium.

The Reds are bottom of the League One table but substitute Lee Fowler shocked Simon Grayson’s men and made a fairytale start to his Crawley career with a spectacular late volley.

Crawley Town v PNE

Crawley Town v PNE

Fourth-placed PNE have now picked up two points from their last three matches against the bottom three and are in the midst of a seven game winless run.

Crawley took the lead in the 17th minute as Anthony Wordsworth bundled the ball over Sam Johnstone to score his first goal for the club on his home début.

Paul Huntington sprinted to the near post and nodded Paul Gallagher’s fierce corner beyond Crawley keeper Lewis Price in the 55th minute.

The ball kissed the post before rippling the back of the net as Huntington bagged his sixth goal of the season with a signature header.

But Fowler - who Crawley boss Dean Saunders only signed on-loan from non-league side Nuneaton Borough yesterday - fired a thunderous first-time volley into the back of the net in the 88th minute.

Simon Grayson made four changes to the side that drew 0-0 at Walsall on Tuesday night.

Daniel Johnson made his début after signing from Aston Villa earlier this month.

Johnson replaced Neil Kilkenny in central midfield and impressed with some positive play.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Sam Johnstone and Josh Brownhill all returned to the starting XI as Chris Humphrey, Thorsten Stuckmann and Kevin Davies dropped to the bench.

PNE started lively as Kyel Reid sliced a first-time shot over the bar in the third minute and smashed the ball way wide of the target from just inside the box moments later.

Reid latched on to Gallagher’s pin-point cross on the edge of the box and slipped the ball to Brownhill who stung Lewis Price’s fingertips with a first time strike in the 12th minute.

But it was Crawley who opened the scoring in the 17th minute as Wordsworth bundled Lewis Young’s cross home.

PNE right back Calum Woods slipped in possession and Crawley striker Izale McLeod pounced on the loose ball and stormed towards Johnstone before firing the ball just over the bar in the 29th minute.

Reid sprinted from PNE’s half, cut through Crawley’s midfield but his deflected strike flew comfortably into Price’s arms.

Ebanks-Blake attempted the spectacular in the 42nd minute as he chested the ball down before acrobatically scissor-kicking the ball over the bar.

And moments later Ebanks-Blake nearly pounced on John Welsh’s header but Price smothered the ball at the striker’s feet.

Grayson made changes at the break as Kilkenny replaced John Welsh.

PNE nearly equalised but were thwarted by Crawley keeper Price. The shot-stopper just tipped Paul Huntington’s dipping header over the bar in the 50th minute.

Gallagher’s deflected shot wrong-footed Price in the 52nd minute but the Scot’s strike just trickled wide of the left post.

Gallagher whipped a corner into the box and Huntington’s near post header flew in off the post to level the scoreline.

McLeod appeared to beat the offside trap and create a one-on-one with Johnstone but he misjudged the ball and it looped into the PNE keeper’s welcoming arms.

Woods was booked for upending Dickson just outside PNE’s box and Jimmy Smith tested Johnstone from the subsequent set-piece. Smith’s curling shot forced the PNE keeper to dive across goal and make a fine save in the 76th minute.

But Crawley nearly regained their lead as unmarked right back Lanre Oyebanjo’s curling shot beat Johnstone but just crashed into the crossbar in the 82nd minute.

Johnstone made another good save to deny McLeod and the PNE defence ushered the ball out for a corner.

But Crawley regained their lead in the 88th minute as that corner bounced out to Fowler on the edge of the box and his sublime volley flew into the back of the net.

PNE: Johnstone, Woods, Huntington, Clarke, Buchanan (Davies, 85) Gallagher, Welsh (Kilkenny, 46), Johnson, Reid, Brownhill (Humphrey, 77), Ebanks-Blake. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Laird, Wiseman, King.

Crawley: Price, Oyebanjo, Dickson, Edwards, Smith (Fowler, 77), McLeod, Walsh, Young (Bawling, 77), Ward, Wordsworth, Elliott. Subs not used: Bradley, Morgan, Anderson, Tomlin, Dutton.

Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire)

Attendance: 2550 (515 North End)