Town: Chris Weale, James Hurst, Joe Jacobson, Connor Goldson, Yado Mambo, Marvin Morgan (Asante, 85), Matt Richards (c), Steve McGinn (Parry, 73), Luke Summerfield, Tom Eaves, Jon Taylor (Wright, 88)
Subs: Joe Anyon, Mark Wright, Dave McAllister, Paul Parry, Rob Purdie, Akwasi Asante, Aaron Wildig
Crawley Town: Paul Jones, Mustapha Dumbuya (Torres, 62), Mat Sadler, Mark Connolly, Billy Clarke, Matt Sparrow (Simpson, 31), Joe Walsh, Jamie Proctor (O’Brien, 75), Dannie Bulman (c), Nicky Adams, Paul Hayes
Subs: Connor Essam, Sergio Torres, Josh Simpson, David Hunt, Aiden O’Brien, Mike Jones, Jonathan Maddison
Referee: J. Linington
Assistants: L. Metcalfe & R. Wigglesworth
Fourth Official: S. Rushton
Attendance: 5,196 (137 from Crawley)
Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
Town were once again forced into a change for this vital home clash against Crawley with Darren Jones’ shoulder injury almost certainly ending his season.
The defender suffered a dislocation in the 2-2 draw at Carlisle on Good Friday and Connor Goldson got the nod after deputising for 70 minutes in Cumbria. There was a welcome return for winger Mark Wright who was named amongst the substitutes having finally recovered from a troublesome knee problem.
It was a bitterly cold day at the Meadow with Crawley getting us under way and attacking the South Stand end of the stadium in front of a reasonable Bank Holiday crowd.
The first effort on goal was from Jamie Proctor who had a brief spell on loan here recently but the shot was wayward and sailed well over. Moments later his cushioned header landed on top of the netting as Crawley did most of the early pressing.
Town offered very little going forward but almost profited from their first corner after 19 minutes. Matt Richards’ delivery was superb and Crawley keeper Paul Jones looked decidedly uncomfortable in dealing with it, but Goldson was unable to apply the finish from close range. Mark Connolly almost responded when Nicky Adams delivered an equally probing flag kick a few minutes later but once again the net rippled only because the ball landed on top of it.
Shrewsbury had had to play second fiddle to their mid-table opponent and Proctor – proving to be a real handful – did brilliantly with his first touch but awfully with his second as the goal opened up courtesy of the initial take. But his shot was so far off its intended target that it almost landed at the linesman’s feet.
Steve McGinn tested Jones in the visitor’s goal with a precise shot from outside the box and Billy Clarke whacked one a yard high from a similar distance.
Crawley made an enforced change after 31 minutes with Matt Sparrow withdrawn and Josh Simpson sent on in his place. Moments later Adams came within a whisker of finding the bottom corner from 25 yards with Chris Weale scrambling across his line to cover the shot. And then the Town keeper did well to block Proctor’s strike at his near post with Crawley still asking the bulk of the questions.
Results are always going to be more important than performances at this stage of the season and so far Salop were still in the hunt. But they were struggling to repel a steady stream of attacks from the away side and you could sense some unease in the home stands.
Jon Taylor had Town’s second shot on target four minutes before the break in a decent attack from the hosts, with some neat touches involving McGinn and Morgan in the build-up. The winger’s shot though lacked pace and was food and drink for the Crawley goalkeeper.
Tom Eaves saw a late shot deflected goalwards off McGinn who knew little about it and the ball was diverted a yard wide of the upright, and Richards picked up a ridiculous yellow for the slightest contact on Adams approaching added on time.
Half Time: Town 0 Crawley Town 0
Three minutes into the second half Eaves gave Town the lead with a fantastic drive from 25 yards that went plum into the corner of the Crawley net. The shot was hit with such power and precision that it might have needed the combined efforts of Petr Cech and David De Gea to get anywhere near it and was the best of four in Town colours for the Bolton loanee.
Crawley looked to hit back quickly and Proctor looked certain to level from no more than four yards out and totally unmarked after 55 minutes. But the ball took the slightest of bobbles on a tricky surface and his only connection was with fresh air. His blushes would have been spared – marginally – when the linesman on the near side indicated that the striker had taken up an offside position.
Just as Eaves carried the bulk of Town’s goal threat, much the same could be said of Proctor who had shown more in an hour than he did in a month whilst on loan here.
Eaves demonstrated just why Reebok chief Dougie Freeman rates him so highly with a goal from nothing after 67 minutes. He broke from just inside his own half and the outlet ball to Taylor was on but Eaves just showed immense power and determination to cut a swathe through a retreating Crawley defence. Sure, he got lucky with more than one fortunate ricochet but once he reached the area his deft lob over a stranded Jones was pure class. 2-0!
Town held a very hard earned two goal advantage but Crawley always looked menacing going forward. That said, Morgan flashed an effort across the six yard line when Town mounted a three v. two counter with 20 minutes remaining, and Paul Parry came on for McGinn shortly after with Shrews fans happy to see Proctor replaced at a similar time for the Sussex side.
Adams fizzed one wide with Crawley throwing men forward at will in a bid to salvage something from a game that they had controlled for long spells.
After 81 minutes though, Town were handed the perfect opportunity to put the game to bed finally. Yado Mambo was held in the area and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. But the normally reliable Richards smashed the effort over
the bar with fans not happy that Eaves had been denied a hat-trick opportunity. It was only right though that the skipper should take on the responsibility and some of the criticism after the miss was harsh in the extreme.
No matter, for Eaves was soon celebrating the treble. Once again, the finish was top drawer and soared into the net from 25 yards to seal the victory. Not everything he does comes off in terms of touch but his performance here was as good as any I’ve seen from a striker since this place opened. Each one of the finishes belonged on a much higher stage and doubtless Eaves will go on to perform at that level. His contribution here has been almost priceless.
Wright did get the last few minutes plus stoppages and Weale preserved the clean sheet with a late stop from Adams. But today was all about one man. Take a bow Tom Eaves!
Full Time: Town 3 Crawley Town 0