Crawley Town share more than a nickname with Manchester United. Like those other Red Devils, they are a team that rivals love to hate, their irascible Glaswegian managerattracts more than his share of controversy, and they seem to get all the breaks going, whether they need them or not. Also like United, of course, they usually win.
So it was at Kingsmeadow yesterday. The cuddly Wombles, the fan-owned neutrals' favourite, had a full house for their latest instalment of a burgeoning rivalry against the bad guys who are accused of having spent their way into the League thanks to mysterious Far Eastern investors. The Crawley manager, Steve Evans, was sent to the stands at the interval, and his team benefited from an own goal, a penalty and a goalkeeping error.
Crawley remain at the summit of League Two and on course for a second successive promotion after their sixth victory in a row. Although Evans denied he revelled in the jeers of the crowd, he acknowledged he had relished watching his team beat AFC Wimbledon after a series of grudge matches as the teams fought for promotion from the Blue Square Bet premier league last season.
"We lost here last year and there were street parties in Kingston for two weeks," he said. "They built it up that they would rather beat us than anyone else but we have got some strong characters in our dressing room."
Wimbledon began the match in the top six but dropped three places after losing back-to-back League games for the first time this season. Terry Brown, the manager, bemoaned "a shocking defensive display", three goals conceded from right-wing corners taken by Andy Drury. "They didn't have to work hard to score," he said. "It would have taken an exceptional team to come back from that."
The home crowd were dismayed to see their side go behind after three minutes as Drury's unthreatening corner was sliced horribly into his own net by Chris Bush, under no pressure and much to the defender's evident distress. Five minutes later it got worse. Drury's second corner was much better and deeper, and Crawley's Jamaica defender Claude Davis met it with a plunging header that sent the ball high past Seb Brown's right hand.
Wimbledon regrouped and halved the arrears after 10 minutes. Danny Minshull seemed to have missed his chance to shoot when he was challenged by Sergio Torres, but won the ball back and made good use of his second attempt, his cross-shot going in off the unfortunate Davis. Jack Midson completed Wimbledon's comeback when he cut in from the right, evaded couple of challenges on the edge of the penalty area and shot low past Scott Shearer with his left foot.
As the teams came off at half-time, Evans was sent off after haranguing the referee and watched the second half from a seat in front of the press box. He must have been worried when Matt Tubbs missed a hat-trick of headers, but Wimbledon handed the advantage back to his team. Again Drury slung over a corner and it was handled by Callum McNaughton, Tubbs smashing in the penalty for his eighth League goal of the season.
Crawley's fourth was another untidy effort, Brown failing to gather a bouncing ball under challenge and Dannie Bulman prodding it into the empty net. Bulman later headed his second from a cross by Scott Neilson. Evans strode on to the field at the end to shake the referee's hand before a solitary concession to his hosts. "We were poor in the first half," he said. "Maybe we felt it was job done. You can't think that against AFC."
AFC Wimbledon (4-1-3-2) Brown; Hatton, McNaughton, Stewart, Bush; Moore; Porter, Minshull (Kiernan, 75), Wellard; Jolley (Ademano, 89), Midson.
Crawley Town (4-3-1-2): Shearer; Hunt (Akpan, 51), Davis, McFadzean, Howell; Simpson, Bulman, Torres (Neilson, 51); Drury; Tubbs, Barnett (Akinde, 26).
Referee Andy Madley.
Man of the match Bulman (Crawley).
Match rating 7/10.