Burton Albion were swept aside by a rampant Crawley Town side who took advantage of Southend's defeat at Cheltenham to go top of the table with a 3-0 victory at the Broadfield Stadium. Claude Davis' first half strike was the difference at half time but an own goal from Aaron Webster, his second in successive games, and a thunderbolt from striker Matt Tubbs put the seal on an ultimately cxomfortable win for the Sussex side.
Skipper John McGrath had to wait a little for a longer to return from his suspension as Brewers boss Paul Peschisolido opted to stick with Chris Palmer in midfield for the visit to last season's Blue Square Premier Champions. Three changes were made from the side that defeated AFC Wimbledon a fortnight ago. Billy Kee's groin problem meant that the striker had to sit this one out but it opened the door for Argentine midfielder Andres Gurrieri to make his first Football League start. The Brewers reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation to make up for the loss of their leading scorer with Cleveland Taylor also left out as Jimmy Phillips returned after impressing in the reserves on Wednesday evening. At the other end Ryan Austin came back after serving his two match suspension to replace Nathan Stanton and resume his partnership with Tony James at the heart of defence.
The home side started the brighter and twice in the opening minutes pumped balls into the Albion penalty area to create some early pressure. The first, a free kick from Andy Drury resulted in a scuffed shot from the edge of the area while Ross Atkins had to tidy up the second one, a long punt from opposite number Scott Shearer that bounced beyond Matt Tubbs inside the penalty area.
Albion had the ball in the back of the net in the tenth minute when Gurrieri put the ball over the line from a Chris Palmer cross but unfortunately Adam Bolder had already used his hand rather blatantly to help the ball on its way. The skipper for the day picking up his ninth yellow card of the season for his troubles.
Tyrone Barnett was close to opening the scoring in the 13th minute but his header from a long Dean Howell throw was comfortable for Ross Atkins to drop onto and avert the danger. The more direct style of the hosts was proving more effective and Tubbs was not far off target with an overhead kick in the 18th minute that cleared Atkins crossbar but not by much.
The Brewers responded and after good work by Gurrieri down the left the winger got his cross in only for Zola to see his effort blocked when the ball deflected out to him. However it was the hosts who broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute. There looked little danger when the ball came in from the right heading towards former Derby County defender Claude DAVIS but the big defender showed great skill to hit the ball on the turn and watch it fly in via the inside of the post.
Almost immediately the hosts had a chance to double their lead when a corner from the right was met by a header from Barnett who saw his effort skip off the top of the crossbar.
After coming under some severe pressure Albion came close themselves with Josh Simpson having to produce a well time challenge just when it looked as if Chris Palmer was clear and about to pull the trigger from 12 yards.
After a brighter spell of play Alibon almost got hit by a swift counter from the Red Devils. Sergio Torres led the break through the centre before playing in Tubbs on the right hand side of the area. Fortunately for Albion his low effort across the face of goal slid just wide of the far post.
Albion could have gone in two down at the break when Tony James conceded a free kick just outside the box but with several Crawley players queuing up to try their luck it was Tubbs who hit the ball into the wall to ensure Albion were still very much in the contest as the half time whistle went.
Half time: Crawley Town 1-0 Burton Albion
An even start to the second period saw chances for both sides. Zola and Maghoma worked a chance at one end with the latter's cross just too deep and Torres almost caught Ross Atkins out, returning his clearance with interest and seeing the ball go not that far wide as Atkins scrambled back across his line.
The keeper was also pleased to see Tyrone Barnett's left foot effort curl wide of the post as he got the better to Tony James just inside the penalty area.
The Brewers though were two goals down on 55 minutes. Tubbs, looking suspiciously offside broke away down the left and crossed into the danger area. Barnett was lurking dangerously but the ball took a vital touch off Aaron Webster who diverted it past his own keeper.
Albion immediately made a double change with Gurrieri and Phillips replaced by John McGrath and Justin Richards in an attempt to try and salvage something from the game.
Tubbs was denied a clear run by an offside flag and then almost had another chance for himself only to chip wide of the post as Ryan Austin got back to do just enough and put him off.
Atkins was in the right place at the right moment in the 63rd moment as Barnett again showed his aerial presence, the keeper getting down to make a smart block as his header flashed towards goal.
The home side continued to pepper the Albion goal with Torres sending a 25 yard effort just over and Atkins having to get down and push Josh Simpson's header round a post. The keeper then spared Webster's blushes as he almost put through his own net for the second time dropping on the ball right on the goal line.
Albion's last throw of the dice was to replace Adam Bolder with Cleveland Taylor for the last fifteen minutes with Chris Palmer reverting to a more central midfield role again after going to the wing when McGrath came on.
There was nothing that Atkins could do however when Crawley scored their third in the 83rd minute. Barnett had a slice of luck when his cross only deflected out of the Burton penalty area but Matt TUBBS was lurking thirty yards out and he smashed an unstoppable shot back into the net.
There was no way back for the Brewers who on the day had been second best as the Red Devils swept to the top of the npower League 2 table. Justin Richards almost grabbed a late consolation but a superb save from Scott Shearer to push away his header kept the home side's clean sheet in tact right to the end.
CRAWLEY: Shearer, Howell, McFadzean, Torres, Tubbs (Akinde, 88), Simpson, Hunt, Bulman (Akpan, 88), Barnett, Drury (Doughty, 87), Davis. Substitutes: Kuipers, Mills.
ALBION: Atkins; Amankwaah, James, Austin, Webster; Palmer, Bolder (Taylor, 76); Gurrieri (McGrath, 56), Maghoma, Phillips (Richards, 56); Zola. Substitutes: Poole, Stanton.
Referee: Mr. C.Pawson (South Yorkshire).
GOALS: Crawley - Davis (22), Webster (55 own goal), Tubbs (83)
Attendance: 3,001 (216 away)