Shaun Brisley and Richard Duffy were both deemed fit to play despite being major doubts in the build-up to the match, although the match came too soon for Matt Tootle. That meant Nicky Hunt continued at right back, while Elliott Hewitt dropped to the bench.
Lewis Alessandra nearly played a big role in giving Notts the lead on five minutes when he saw his shot spilled by Glenn Morris in the Crawley goal. Virtue looked certain to capitalise on the rebound but Josh Lelan made a heroic clearance off the line. Alessandra was also involved in the game’s next big chance, blazing the ball over from close range after Liam Noble had seen his header blocked. Crawley’s first warning shot followed two minutes later, Thomas Verheydt firing the ball narrowly wide from 14 yards, moments before Fitzsimons made a fine save to deny the same player from the edge of the area. Brisley and Noor Husin both blocked efforts on the line as the visitors’ pressure grew. And it eventually told on 25 minutes when Verheydt’s header found Smith in acres of space, allowing the midfielder to fire the ball into the bottom corner. Virtue went into the book for a foul on Josh Payne before Verheydt’s name was taken following a late challenge on Dan Jones. Noble sailed an ambitious lob off target, Verheydt flicked a header over at the near post and Brisley was booked for dissent before the referee called time on the first half.
Jorge Grant bobbled a shot wide before curling an effort off-target as he looked to haul his side back on level terms early in the second period. Noble found the wall with a free-kick moments later, before Stead was denied by the Crawley keeper after cutting out a loose pass in the Crawley defence. It had been a bright start to the second period for the hosts and they got their rewards when Lelan was penalised for handball in the area. Stead duly dispatched the spot-kick to level the scores. Nolan then made his first change, replacing Noor Husin with Shola Ameobi. The Magpies had Fitzsimons to thank for a superb triple save, turning away Boldewijn’s curling effort, smothering the rebound from Verheydt and then gathering Smith’s shot. Hewitt then replaced Noble before Ameobi saw a shot deflect wide and Stead struck straight at the keeper. Stead then did his best to lay the ball on a plate for a team-mate but no-one was on hand to turn his low cross home inside the six-yard box. Notts could easily have been ahead but had their hearts in their mouths with six minutes to play when Hewitt had to make a crucial intervention to deny a Crawley man a tap-in to take the lead. But it began to unravel for Notts when Virtue was shown a second yellow card after commiting a foul to halt a quick Crawley break. And, shortly after four minutes of added time were indicated, matters got worse when Fitzsimons was dismissed for kicking out at an opponent, conceding a penalty in the process. Branislav Pindroch replaced Stead but was unable to save the subsequent spotkick, which was duly dispatched by Payne. Duffy had last-minute penalty claims waved away after appearing to be struck with an arm in the area. And Notts were left to reflect on a second successive home defeat.
Notts County: Fitzsimons, Hunt, Brisley, Duffy, Jones, Husin (Ameobi 62), Alessandra, Noble (Hewitt 68), Virtue, Grant, Stead (Pindroch 94).
Booked: Brisley, Virtue, Hewitt.
Sent Off: Virtue, Fitzsimons.
Crawley Town: Morris, Lelan, Yorweth, Connolly, Doherty, Young, Bulman (Randall 74), Payne, Boldewijn, Smith, Verheydt (Camara 88).
Booked: Verheydt, Lelan.