Pompey 1 Crawley 2

It's gloom for Jon Harley & Co as Crawley bag the points at Fratton Park. Picture: Ian Hargreaves
It's gloom for Jon Harley & Co as Crawley bag the points at Fratton Park. Picture: Ian Hargreaves
Luke McGee

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Pompey slumped to defeat to Crawley yesterday as their winless run was stretched to 11 matches.

Guy Whittingham’s men gave themselves a perfect platform to end that unwanted statistic with a 10th-minute opener from Paul Benson, his first for the club.

The on-loan striker – back in the side at the expense of Izale McLeod – claimed the final touch from Scott Allan’s left-wing cross.

Just 18 minutes later the Reds levelled when Mat Sadler’s left-wing free-kick crept through a crowded penalty area and in at the far post.

Too often Pompey’s final ball disappointed – although Benson did manage to force a save from Paul Jones early in the second half.

Then, in the 73rd minute, Nicky Adams crossed from the left and Billy Clarke finished from close range.

In stoppage-time, a back header from Darel Russell was brilliantly clawed out by Jones when it appeared destined for the net.

The leveller would not arrive, though, and the Blues have now failed to taste victory in all competitions since back in October when Shrewsbury were defeated.

Yesterday’s game was hampered by the pitch cutting up amid torrential rain for much of the match – certainly a concern with Yeovil visiting on Saturday.

Regardless, it was disappointing from Whittingham’s side, who struggled to make some promising positions tell – Nathaniel Mendez-Laing the chief culprit.

There were boos from some of the Fratton faithful at the final whistle as the frustration continued.

The 2-1 defeat leaves the Blues still in the League One relegation zone, facing an almighty battle in the second half of the season.

Whittingham made two changes to the side who drew against Preston in the Blues’ last fixture.

With Jake Jervis having returned to Birmingham early, Benson was back in the starting line-up, himself having missed that goalless draw through illness.

There was also a recall for Mendez-Laing, selected in place of McLeod, who instead was given a place among the substitutes.

With Allan and Mendez-Laing flanking Benson in forward positions, there was an attacking look to the Blues side against the Reds.

When the match got under way, it was Johnny Ertl who had the first attempt on Crawley’s goal with a 30-yard shot after five minutes.

Keeper Jones made a scrambling stop, collecting the ball at the second attempt but was comfortably in control of the situation.

At the other end, a dangerous cross from the left caused Jon Harley problems – the ball ricocheting off Clarke and just past the post.

But on 10 minutes the deadlock was broken, with Pompey taking the lead.

Allan swung in a cross from the left and Benson challenged with Claude Davis to get the slightest of touches as the ball entered the far corner of the net.

The surface was proving to be slippy in the torrential rain, with many players sent tumbling as it cut up.

In the 23rd minute, Allan fizzed through a ball to Brian Howard as he broke forward towards the penalty area.

But the midfielder could not make an impact as he fell to the ground under a challenge from David Hunt.

There were appeals for a foul, with Howard effectively clean through, but referee Roger East was not interested and play continued.

Then, in the 28th minute, Crawley were level.

Mike Jones was fouled by Harley down the left flank.

Harley was booked for the challenge and Sadler stepped up to whip in a free-kick which eluded everyone in the box and crept in at the far post.

Hope Akpan should have given the visitors the lead five minutes later when the ball fell kindly to him nine yards out but he crashed his first-time shot over the crossbar.

Pompey were under serious pressure and Adams delivered a cross from the right which was narrowly beyond the reach of the sliding Gary Alexander at the far post.

With half-time approaching, Mustapha Dumbuya embarked on a run down the right, cutting into the penalty area before unleashing a powerful left-foot attempt just over the bar.

Mendez-Laing then had the ball into the Crawley net in the 44th minute. But the assistant referee’s flag had already been raised for offside against the on-loan youngster.

At the start of the second half, Howard threaded through a superb pass into the path of Benson but the striker’s subsequent shot was parried at the near post by the keeper.

Pompey were forced into their first change when Gabor Gyepes appeared to have hurt his hamstring in the 65th minute, Lubomir Michalik replacing him.

And Crawley took the lead eight minutes later. Adams swung in a cross from the left and Clarke was there to nudge it home from close range.

McLeod was brought on to give the hosts more attacking impetus as Whittingham attempted to muster up a leveller.

Four minutes of time added on provided hope, too.

Russell produced a back header from Lee Williamson’s cross which was superbly kept out by the keeper.

It was the closest the Blues had come to scoring since getting their opener but minutes later the final whistle sounded to bring the curtain down on another defeat.