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Monday, December 3, 2012
THE prospect of Chelmsford City – three divisions and 67 places below Saturday’s opponents, Crawley – writing themselves into FA Cup folklore by becoming giant-killers for a second time this season, always seemed a tall order.
With 11 men on the pitch and a goal down, that is the way it was panning out for Glenn Pennyfather’s part-timers on Saturday.
Then, enter Clarets forward Donovan Simmonds who, having scored two goals in the historic victory over local rivals Colchester in the previous round, went from hero to zero as he collected two yellow cards in the opening 35 minutes.
His dismissal wasn’t a game-changer though. The Clarets were already chasing the game against a classy Red Devils side that look a good bet for the League One play-offs this season and who progressed to the third round courtesy of goals from Nicky Adams, Billy Clarke and Gary Alexander.
No, Simmonds’ dismissal quite simply made a thankless task impossible and contributed to a tough afternoon for Chelmsford, who registered just one shot all afternoon, compared to the hosts’ 38, 21 of those on target.
Barring a bright, opening 90 seconds in which Chelmsford tested the hosts’ resolve with a series of long throws, the Essex team were second-best and had goalkeeper Stuart Searle, a former Crawley player, to thank for the final result not resembling a cricket score.
Ironically, it was Searle’s error which opened the floodgates when the 33-year-old misjudged the outstanding Adams’ angled drive from 10 yards, allowing the former Leicester man’s effort to drift inside his near post with 24 minutes on the clock.
It was no more than Crawley deserved, Richie Barker’s men determined not to become the latest in a long line of league teams humbled by non-league opposition.
They had already served notice of their intentions with Alexander and former Ipswich Town striker Clarke being denied by Searle, while Sergio Torres and Adams had efforts blocked by an over-worked visiting defence.
Crawley were given a helping hand following Simmonds’ rash behaviour and between his dismissal and the half-time whistle, it was one-way traffic, Clarke bagging a second with a neat back-post finish from David Hunt’s deep right-wing cross.
The second half began as the first finished with towering Jamaican international Claude Davis, the former Preston North End and Derby County defender, squandering a free-header over the bar, before his central defensive partner Mark Connolly launched a blistering drive from way out that rattled the crossbar.
Chelmsford’s only real outlet was Anthony Cook, but two pacey runs by the midfielder, one in the first half and one in the second, were thwarted by a lack of composure as he looked to release the ball.
As for Crawley, they were strolling at 2-0 and only shoddy finishing and further heroics from Searle prevented them from wrapping the game up in style, Clarke, Alexander and Josh Simpson all being denied by the goalkeeper.
In the end the hosts did score a third and it was no more than they deserved.
However, it came about in fortuitous circumstances.
Cook looked to have won a 50-50 tackle with Torres in the box, but when the Argentinian went flying, referee Christopher Sarginson pointed to the spot, enabling veteran frontman Alexander to send Searle the wrong way from 12 yards and put a gloss on proceedings.
Clarets’ boss Pennyfather had few complaints after the game: “The first 20 minutes is always vital in games like these and we are not used to playing at that tempo and pace,” he said.
“Crawley started very well and Stuart made a couple of saves but has then gone to punch Adams’ shot and inadvertently diverted the ball into his own net. You go a goal down and you try and re-group, then you get a player sent off.
“That killed the game for us. It was tough enough with 11, but ten-men against a really strong Crawley side, we struggled.
“But I’m proud of my boys and it was 0-0 right to the death in the second half. The players kept their discipline and shape and didn’t disgrace themselves.”