Jonathan Forte grabbed a late equaliser as Crawley Town twice came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw against Walsall today.
Forte’s 81st minute header rescued a point for the Reds who were reduced to ten men late on with the dismissal of Joe Walsh.
Crawley had fallen behind early in the first half, when Febian Brandy fired home, before a good spell of Crawley pressure before the break was rewarded with Billy Clarke’s seventh goal of the season.
The point sees the Reds drop to sixth in the League One table after being leapfrogged by MK Dons, who won last night, and Swindon Town.
Kyle McFadzean was forced to miss out after coming down with the ‘flu, and his replacement Joe Walsh looked assured aside from the foul which led to his dismissal late in the game.
That was Crawley’s only change as Forte, who scored the equaliser at Notts County last week, kept his place in the last appearance of his loan from Southampton.
Meanwhile, the Saddlers were looking for a first win in 12, and reeling from Tuesday’s FA Cup exit against Conference side Lincoln, they came to the Broadfield in positive mood.
Indeed, Dean Smith’s side made the better start and carved out the first chance.
Full-back Andy Butler was released down the left and his cross was headed wide by Will Grigg, one of five changes to the Saddlers side which went out of the FA Cup on Tuesday.
Crawley had made a quiet start, and the home support were silenced 13 minutes in. Jamie Patterson fed Febian Brandy, who had made a bright start, and he fired past Paul Jones, via a slight deflection off Claude Davis.
It wasn’t quite clicking for the Reds at this point, but as soon as they found a measure of cohesion, they were level after 22 minutes.
A flowing move down the right saw Forte lay the ball off for Clarke, who found the top corner with an unerring finish from 18-yards.
Crawley looked a much improved side after Clarke’s goal, and almost had a second when Forte’s shot was blocked at close quarters by Dean Holden.
Nicky Adams had started to run riot down the right wing by now, but a succession of crosses narrowly failed to find their intended target - the best effort saw Forte glance his header just wide. At the other end, Claude Davis and Nathan Byrne had firmly shackled former Manchester United youngster Brandy, who has also had a spell with Panathinaikos.
Before the break the sense grew that the Saddlers were there for the taking, but Crawley struggled to recreate that tempo in the early stages of the second half, and they very nearly fell behind in the 55th minute.
Patterson was allowed to cut in off the left flank, and his rasping 20-yard drive came back off Paul Jones’ crossbar. Two minutes later Jones clawed away Paterson’s speculative effort and the Reds were on the rack.
Crawley wrestled control back, but a string of positive moments came to nothing.
And they were punished 15 minutes from time, when an unmarked Ashley Hemmings pounced after Paul Jones had parried Sam Mantom’s long-range effort.
Reds boss Richie Barker responded by introducing Nicky Ajose and Gary Alexander to form a three-pronged strike-force.
The move paid dividends with nine minutes to play, when Adams’ whipped cross found Forte, whose glancing header looped over the top of keeper Aaron McCarey.
If the momentum was with Crawley, it was snatched out of their hands moments later, when Brandy got in behind, and was sent sprawling by Walsh’s desperate tackle. Referee David Phillips wasted no time in brandishing the red card.
That set-up a pulsating finish, but neither side could fashion a winner.
Crawley Town: Paul Jones, Nathan Byrne, Joe Walsh, Claude Davis, Mat Sadler, Nicky Adams, Dannie Bulman, Josh Simpson, Mike Jones, Billy Clarke, Jonathan Forte.
Subs: Mark Connolly (on for Forte 86), Sergio Torres, Gary Alexander (on for M Jones 76), David Hunt, Nicky Ajose (on for Clarke 76), John Akinde, Michel Kuipers.
Walsall: Aaron McCarey, Richard Taundry, Andy Butler, Dean Holden, Nicky Featherstone, Will Grigg, Jamie Paterson, Ashley Hemmings, Febian Brandy, Andy Taylor, Sam Mantom.
Subs: David Grof, Adam Chambers (on for Featherstone 86), George Bowerman (on for Grigg 90), Mal Benning, Paul Downing, James Baxendale (on for Hemmings 90), James Chambers.