The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Richard Latham

LUKE Ayling was al­ready among the most popular play­ers in City’s dress­ing room be­fore this game, ac­cord­ing to boss Steve Cot­ter­ill.

And the de­fender will be an even big­ger hero with his team­mates after net­ting the 87th minute win­ner that kept the Robins on top of League One and rid­ing the crest of a wave.

Brave Craw­ley de­fended for their lives for most of the game, but paid dearly for fail­ing to clear Luke Free­man’s late cor­ner from the left.

Ayling was left in space at the far post and coolly chested the ball down be­fore send­ing an un­stop­pable vol­ley past Lewis Price from ten yards.

Man­ager Cot­ter­ill punched the air with de­light and re­lief.

Af­ter­wards he had noth­ing but praise for his ta­ble-top­ping team.

“I have never been more proud of them,” he said.

“In the space of a week we have won two cup ties and a league game with­out con­ced­ing a goal.

“The way the lads started the game and then kept go­ing right to the end, after such a hec­tic sched­ule, was fan­tas­tic.

“It was a great fin­ish by Luke for the goal.

“If you asked who was the most popular player among a lot of great lads in our dress­ing room he would be in the top three.

“He is a fan­tas­tic foot­baller with great tech­nique.

“Craw­ley made it tough for us, but I know my play­ers will keep giv­ing their all for 90 min­utes-plus and again our fit­ness and team spirit shone through.”

Vis­it­ing boss John Gre­gory took some heart from his team’s res­o­lute ef­fort, but was in no mood to con­grat­u­late them.

He said:“We have done a lot of things well, but we have lost the game and that’s all that mat­ters.

“I don’t like hard luck sto­ries. We made some poor de­ci­sions when in good po­si­tions go­ing for­ward and paid for one mis­take at the back.

“The play­ers needed no mo­ti­va­tion com­ing to a ground like Ash­ton Gate and tak­ing on a very good side.

“Al­ready I have chal­lenged them to play with the same res­o­lu­tion against Port Vale in our next game.

“We have to do bet­ter if we are to stay in League One.

“I have never set­tled for com­ing sec­ond and, while there was a lot to praise in what we did, the fi­nal out­come was a de­feat.”

Price was Craw­ley’s first half hero, pro­duc­ing a stun­ning fourth minute save from Kieran Agard’s close range shot.

The keeper also did well to palm over a swerv­ing ef­fort from Joe Bryan and just be­fore the break got his fin­ger­tips to an Agard cross, de­flect­ing it past Matt Smith, who looked set to score.

Craw­ley were re­stricted to long range ef­forts from Shaun Miller and Lanre Oye­banjo, but threat­ened on the break and worked hard in all ar­eas of the pitch de­spite lit­tle re­ward. For City it was a fourth suc­ces­sive win in League and cup with­out con­ced­ing a goal.

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