MATCH VERDICT: Crawley 2 Wanderers 1
GIGG Lane was possibly rocking just as hard as the Broadfield Stadium last night as former Shakers star Nicky Ajose dumped Wanderers out of the Capital One Cup.
The ex-United front man completed a stunning comeback with a 91st minute header to leave Owen Coyle's Whites on their haunches after a largely uninspiring performance.
Benik Afobe had given the Whites a first half lead against the run of play before Crawley came charging back into the contest after the break.
Inspired by another ex-Bury man, Nicky Adams, substitute Billy Clarke curled a delightful equaliser before Ajose's incredible late header stole the show.
Coyle had pledged to make changes, and named seven new players in his starting line-up, which included a full debut for summer signings Andy Lonergan and Benik Afobe.
The manager might have known it wasn't going to be his night as another of those making their first Whites start, Josh Vela, saw his night end after only six minutes as an early foul by Bolton lad Nicky Adams sent him on a nasty tumble that seemed to turn his knee.
After trying to run it off, Vela was eventually forced to concede defeat and limped off by his own volition to be replaced by Darren Pratley.
Crawley came within inches of drawing first blood as Kyle McFazdean – a player previously linked with a move to the Reebok – flicked on Adams' near post corner to see it bounce off the far post.
It was all part of a nervy and bitty start for the new-look side, but the nerves dissipated considerably when they finally managed to string a few passes together.
It began with Riley switching play with a superb raking ball to Petrov, who beat his man to slide a ball in behind the Crawley back four for Afobe. His touch took him in on the keeper, before his second pushed the ball casually past Paul Jones.
That seemed to temporarily knock the stuffing out of the home side, who then seemed to inherit Wanderers' habit of lofting the ball aimlessly into touch.
But before the break, both sides would have claims for a penalty.
Afobe was played in over the top by Chris Eagles and appeared to have manufactured himself a good chance when he chipped the ball over the head of McFazdean, only to fall to the floor. Referee Graham Scott wasn't impressed – and also waved away a more convincing claim at the other end when Zat Knight got himself in a muddle, and then appeared to drag down former Bury front man Nicky Ajose.
Petrov had been dropped after the opening day nightmare at Turf Moor and was certainly among those with a point to prove. It was no coincidence that as his influence in the game grew, so did Wanderers' attacking potency.
The Bulgarian produced a pair of fabulous crosses early in the second half into a frustratingly empty six yard box and became the Whites' constant outlet on the left. But as those crosses ontinued to remain unclaimed, the Sussex side sensed they could find a route back into the game.
After the earlier loss of Vela, Wanderers were dealt another injury blow as Afobe limped off just before the hour mark, to be replaced by Marvin Sordell, after a touchline challenge had left him nursing his hip.
Spurred by a small but vociferous home support, Crawley just wouldn't sit down, and full-back Matt Sadler missed a golden chance after finding himself free at the far post on the end of Adams' looping cross.
Coyle opted for a change in system with around 20 minutes remaining, bringing on skipper Kevin Davies for Mark Davies in a bid to hold the ball up front. But in doing so, the numbers in midfield were lost – and that's exactly where Crawley managed to haul themselves back into the game.
The Whites had already been struggling to shackle Adams on the right flank, and the former Bury man thought he had snatched an equaliser when his fierce shot from the edge of the box deflected off Tim Ream, but landed inches wide.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, the breakthrough arrived. Adams was again involved, squaring for substitute Billy Sharp to run at Wanderers on the edge of the box and arc a shot around the oncoming defenders into the bottom corner.
It could have got worse immediately as Ajose wriggled free of Ream to loft a shot over Lonergan, only for it to again drop agonisingly wide.
Wanderers tried desperately to avoid extra time – and both Petrov and Eagles saw stinging shots beaten away by Jones before Pratley was booked for diving after a seemingly legitimate penalty claim after a challenge from McFazdean.
But then all hell let loose as Clarke got free of two defenders on the right to dig a cross out for Ajose to head home.