By Warren Lucy
It’s now three consecutive defeats for Crawley and possibly more concerning for John Gregory is the fact it’s also a trio of games without a goal.
Joe Garner’s first half goal proved the difference as Reds travelled back from the north-west with nothing to show for their efforts.
Matt Tubbs didn’t travel with the squad after picking up a hamstring injury in the midweek fixture against Sheffield United, with Preston-born Jamie Proctor coming into the starting XI. Sergio Torres kept his place in midfield whilst new signings Gwion Edwards and ex-Preston man Jeffrey Monakana began their Crawley careers on the bench at Deepdale.
After a Crawley corner early on, the home side went up the other end and from a flag kick of their own, Paul Gallagher’s drive across the six-yard box, came off Josh Simpson and just past Paul Jones’ post.
On 13 minutes, fans’ favourite Torres drove wide of the target in an even first third of the first half.
However, just a minute later, Keith Keane’s cross from the right-hand side found the head of Lilywhites’ top scorer Garner who headed easily past Paul Jones from eight yards out.
Neil Kilkenny hit wide when well placed as a Lee Holmes cross wasn’t cleared comprehensively on 19 minutes.
Garner was a constant menace throughout and after tricking his way into the box, it needed a superb block from Mat Sadler to make sure the striker’s effort flew out for a corner just prior to the half-an-hour mark.
As the clock hit 30, a neat, aerial Andy Drury pass found Mike Jones racing through the Preston defence, but the winger’s left-footed strike was tame and meant a comfortable save for PNE custodian Declan Rudd.
Reds were coming into the game more and Billy Clarke was next to try his luck but his shot sailed wide of the target ten minutes before the break.
Skipper Simpson - up for a corner after a neat move between Drury and Mike Jones - fired wide after a Rudd punch lacked significant distance, while at the other end, Garner headed over the bar from a cross by Leicester City loanee Gallagher.
That was how the first half ended with Crawley having the majority of the game, but Preston doing the most important thing in football; putting the ball in the net to go in with a 1-0 lead.
Just a minute into the second half, Garner had a great opportunity to add a second goal for his side but slipped at the crucial moment, under pressure from Mark Connolly.
Just before the hour mark, an intricate move saw Clarke pick out Drury but, on the stretch, the midfielder failed to connect and was offside.
Garner again had a brilliant chance to make it 2-0 on 63 minutes when the former Nottingham Forest man got in front of his marker Joe Walsh but the striker’s deft header bounced inches wide of Paul Jones’ right-hand post.
With 20 minutes remaining, Garner was out of luck again when his venomous strike cannoned off Paul Jones and away for safety.
A minute later and the visitors had a golden opportunity to equalise but Clarke’s right footed shot floated over the bar. The Irishman really should have scored after Torres’ effort was blocked.
Just seconds later and another Torres strike flew just wide of Rudd’s goal as Reds upped the ante with 20 minutes of the game remaining.
Gallagher fired wide from a free-kick as the natives got restless with Crawley creeping back into the game in Lancashire.
Crawley supporters got their first glimpse of Monakana when he replaced Dannie Bulman with 12 minutes remaining and straight away the winger was involved; crossing for Proctor who headed wide of the target.
On 80 minutes, Lee Holmes saw his powerful 20-yard free-kick beaten away by Paul Jones.
Craig Davies had an effort well held by Jones and Proctor headed over from a Drury corner but the final ten minutes finished with little attacking intent from both sides.
REDS: P. Jones; Simpson (c), Connolly, Walsh, Sadler; M. Jones, Bulman (Monakana, 78), Drury, Torres; Clarke, Proctor
UNUSED SUBS: Fallon, Kaikai, Boateng, Maddison, Edwards, Dicker