Tranmere Rovers 3-3 Crawley Town: Late leveller denies Reds victory

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A goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time from Ryan Lowe cruelly denied Crawley Town all three points in a pulsating 3-3 draw away at Tranmere Rovers.

Reds were all set to make it two wins from two League One games thanks to an unlikely double from defender Joe Walsh when the 34-year-old goal-poacher netted only moments from the final whistle.

Rovers had fought back to lead 2-1 at half-time with Joe Thompson scoring both, the second coming after an error from Reds goalkeeper Paul Jones.

The excellent Billy Clarke made it 2-2 before Welsh Under-21 international Walsh scored his second and third of the new season, but deep into added time Lowe - a player Reds boss Richie Barker managed at Bury - grabbed a dramatic point for the hosts.

Reds manager Barker named an attacking starting XI, Andy Drury came in for his first start since returning to the club along with Billy Clarke and Mark Connolly in three changes from the cup defeat at Cheltenham.

And a positive start from the visitors was rewarded with the opening goal after nine minutes. Drury was clattered on the right touchline but picked himself up to loft a delicious free kick into the box for a rising Walsh to nod into the top corner.

Tranmere were level just seven minutes later when Reds defender Connolly’s defensive header struck a team-mate and landed straight to Thompson, who thumped a shot into the bottom corner.

Reds’ front two then combined well, Clarke heading down for Jamie Proctor to drill just wide from the edge of the box.

Both sides were feeling adventurous, though it was Reds who were creating the better chances, Clarke denied by Rovers goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams when slipped in by Proctor, while at the other end Chris Atkinson hit a second rising effort over the bar from the edge of the box.

Barker’s side were looking increasingly dangerous - Mike Jones had a shot charged down after more good work from Clarke - though the hosts were gifted the lead two minutes before the break.

The usually unflappable Paul Jones scuffed an attempted clearance straight to Thomson, who closed in on goal before slotting past the stranded Reds keeper for a 2-1 half-time lead.

There was still time before the break for Sadler to shoot weakly at Fon Williams after a slick one-two with Clarke, who was then only millimetres away from connecting with a Nicky Adams low cross

If Crawley felt aggrieved to be behind at the interval they were back on parity ten minutes into the second half. Right back James Hurst jinked past Evan Horwood inside the box and showed good awareness to pick out Clarke, who couldn’t miss from two yards for his first of the campaign.

The clear-cut chances largely dried up - Tranmere reduced to long-range attempts while a committed Sadler block was needed to deny Thompson his hat-trick - before the game roared back into life in the final ten minutes.

A minute after Reds had had a penalty appeal for handball waved away Walsh restored their lead by controlling a corner and beating Fon Williams for the second time.

Barker brought on Kyle McFadzean and Dannie Bulman to see out the win, but after Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro had spurned a glorious chance from fellow substitute Jason Koumas’s brilliant pass there was late, late heartache for the visitors.

As the clock ticked into the 95th minute Tranmere won a corner which was flicked on to the back post where Lowe showed all his predatory instincts to tuck home and earn his new side a share of the spoils.

It was cruel on Crawley after an excellent away performance, although they go into next Saturday’s home match against Steve Evans’s Rotherham with four points from their first two league games.

Tranmere Rovers: Owain Fon Williams, Danny Holmes, Evan Horwood, Ash Taylor, Stephen Foster, Joe Thompson, Ryan Lowe, Andy Robinson, Chris Atkinson, Max Power (Koumas 63), Akpso Sodje (Akpa Akpro 57).

Subs: Ian Goodison, Abdulai Baggie, James Rowe, Cole Stockton, Jason Koumas, Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro, Jason Mooney.

Reds: Paul Jones, James Hurst, Mat Sadler, Mark Connolly, Joe Walsh, Josh Simpson, Andy Drury, Nicky Adams (Bulman 90), Mike Jones, Billy Clarke (McFadzean 84), Jamie Proctor (Alexander 70).

Subs: Kyle McFadzean, Connor Essam, Sergio Torres, Gary Alexander, Dannie Bulman, Luke Rooney, Jonny Maddison.