THIS was an archetypal performance of would-be champions.
For 75 minutes of this top v bottom clash in the SSML Premier Division, lowly Crawley Green defied and denied WGC at every turn.
The Luton side’s experienced keeper Dean Bull pulled off two outstanding saves and the Crawley Green defence tackled like demons.
But as with all potential champions, Adam Fisher’s side found a way to win a tough encounter with two Jon Clements goals in the final 20 minutes.
There was plenty of frustration and no little anxiety among the WGC contingent at the interval, after a poor first-half in which a Citizens’ team showed a rare lack of ideas to get through a dogged home defence.
Manager Fisher rang the changes resting Ashley Kersey (hamstring) and Paul Marks (knee) with places on the bench and had midfielder Nick Elliott serving the first of a two match ban.
Skipper Danny Payne moved back into midfield and George Ironton and Tyler Hatherly were given starts. Josh Bronti was preferred to Dan Bond, while John McGrandles was back in the centre of defence after a bout of illness.
In the opening minutes, Ben Spaul put over a teasing cross that saw eventual hero Clements just inches from getting a vital touch.
Clements was then set up by a strong Hatherly run down the left, but finished poorly.
On 10 minutes, WGC were denied the strong start they craved by a terrific save from keeper Bull. A smart interception by Spaul put in Clements and this time his much better contact looked certain to count, until Bull tipped it around the post in spectacular style.
That near miss seemed to deflate WGC’s bright start and we had to wait until the past the half-hour mark, before Spaul hit an effort straight at the keeper and Clements attempted a clever lob while sandwiched between Bull and central defender Sean Beesley, that cleared the bar to end the goalless half.
But the second 45 minutes was a different affair. The Herns Lane side were immediately on the attack and kept up the assault for the whole of the second period.
A rehearsed move saw McGrandles get up on the back post to head back a Hatherly free-kick, Clements’ effort was excellently kept out by Bull, but Bronti skied the rebound chance wildly over.
WGC kept pressing and Ironton, out on the left, got over a fierce cross-shot that struck the post on its way out.
A Citizens goal looked imminent and it came 19 minutes from time. Fine work by full-back Jon Sexton found Clements on the left, he cut inside two challenges and drove a powerful, low shot past Bull through a crowded area.
With their resistance broken, Crawley Green were forced back throughout the final quarter.
WGC introduced fresh legs in Bond and Charlie Joy and two minutes from time, clinched the win, this time McGrandles’ back post knock-back found Clements, who turned it past stranded keeper Bull from short range.
WGC should have made it three in stoppage time, Bond sent clear unselfishly set up fellow substitute Joy, but his shot was straight at Bull who fisted the effort away.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, the home side were reduced to 10 men, midfielder Tyler Ingram given a straight red by referee Wynne for using an elbow on Charlie Joy after a tussle following a throw-in.
WGC: May, Rolfe, Corran, McGrandles, Sexton, Payne, Spaul, Ironton (Joy 74), Bronti (Bond 68), Clements, Hatherly (Marks 84).