Boro’ may have rolled over and had their tummies tickled against Barrow last Saturday but despite suffering another defeat against runaway leaders Crawley Town, at least this time they showed some bite.
Although avoiding relegation seems a near-impossible task, Garry Wilson’s men displayed dogged determination for this Sussex derby and with a slice of good fortune and a killer instinct in front of goal, Boro’ could easily have produced an upset against the champions elect.
Boro’ were always the underdogs going into Tuesday’s match as Steve Evans’ Crawley Town look to have the pedigree to land the Blue Square Bet Premier title and become the second team in Sussex to compete in the Football League.
Wilson was left growling after the Barrow defeat but Evans and Crawley arrived with their tails-up having dispatched nearest title-rivals AFC Wimbledon 3-1 on Friday night to open up an eight-point lead at the top.
Striker Richard Pacquette paid the price for failing to score a league goal since November and was dropped to the bench.
George Purcell and Jamie Taylor played up front with Simon Johnson reinstated to the starting XI on the right of midfield. Gary Elphick failed a fitness test and Danny Kelly partnered the superb Ben Austin at the heart of the defence.
It was not long before Rikki Banks was called into action. Matt Tubbs curled a delicious freekick around the wall but Banks showed good agility to push away for a corner.
But Boro’ were not prepared to let the powerful visitors have it all there own way in front of a lively crowd of 2,054.
Crawley skipper Pablo Mills was fortunate not to concede a penalty when his blatant shove on Jamie Taylor in the box was strangely ignored or unseen by the match officials.
Purcell then teed-up Taylor who watched his header creep past Crawley ‘keeper Scott Shearer’s post before a Craig McAllister header rattled the crossbar at the other end.
Crawley’s opener arrived on 25 minutes and it had more than a suspicion of handball about it.
Danny Kelly sliced his clearance and the ball appeared to strike Charlie Wassmer’s arm before he produced a delightful chip over Banks to open their account.
Banks was assured in the first half but he would have been disappointed with Crawley’s second on 56 minutes. After a spell of prolonged possession Glenn Wilson pumped an angled ball into the box. McAllister headed down to Sergio Torres, Banks got a hand to his low drive but was unable to prevent the ball from nestling into the net.
Against the odds Boro’ continued to scrap and maintained their shape and discipline.
Matt Crabb pinged in an inviting cross for Taylor but his header from eight yards was straight at Shearer. But they did finally deliver the goal their efforts deserved with 20 minutes remaining - and what a belter it was.
The otherwise excellent Wassmer impeded Taylor 25 yards from goal and Purcell’s sweetly struck freekick whistled around the wall and flew into the top corner with Shearer a mere spectator.
Crawley ruthlessly saw the game out and time ticked away with substitutions as they used all the tricks to disrupt the flow and deny Boro’ a way back into the game.
Crawley were clearly the better side on the night but even the most critical of fan would be hard pushed to fault the performance on Tuesday.
However, the frustration remains that Boro’ raised their game for Crawley when a similar high-tempo display against the less-glamourous and average Barrow side would surely have yielded three vital points.
Head coach Nick Greenwood said, “These are not bad players but consistency has been a problem.”
BOROUGH: Banks 6, Baker 7, Austin 8, Kelly 6, Jenkins 6, Smart 6 (Brinkhurst 84), Hutchinson 8, Johnson 6, M Crabb 6, Purcell 7, Taylor 6.
Subs not used: Demetriou, Pacquette, Strevett, Weatherstone
Goals: Purcell 71 MoM: Ben Austin - played through the pain
Crawley Town Shearer, Wilson, Wassmer, Mills, Howell, Hunt, Smith (Dance 81), Simpson, Torres, McAllister (Rusk 90), Tubbs (Cook 89) subs not used: Dempster, Jordan Goals: Wassmer 25, Torres 57
Referee: Simon Long 6 Att: 2,054