Reds final away game of the League 2 campaign ended in defeat to play-off hopefuls Cambridge at the Cambs Glass Stadium.
It was a touch harsh on the visitors who were beaten by Scott Wharton’s first-half header and a late penalty by Luke Berry and finished with ten men when Josh Payne was shown a straight red for bringing down Gerry McDonagh in the build-up to the second goal.
Crawley enjoyed plenty of possession and creating some good chances, particularly in the first half when Kaby Djalo hit the woodwork and Jimmy Smith’s volley was inches wide.
By the end Reds were playing with three up front but they failed to test Will Norris again and will now look to end the season on a positive note when they host Mansfield Town next Saturday.
Cambridge had looked nervous in the opening stages as they sought the win which would keep their play-off flame flickering and after settling into the game unchanged Reds nearly took advantage twice in the space of five minutes.
Djalo was denied his second Crawley goal by the post in the 19th minute when his volley from 25 yards beat keeper Norris but came back off the left-hand upright.
Then Norris came to his side’s rescue with a full-length fingertip save to keep out Smith’s shot after James Collins had cushioned Lewis Young’s cross into the skipper’s path.
Joe McNerney would have been disappointed not to have got his header from Dean Cox’s free kick in the 29th minute on target and a third of the way through the contest Reds were in control.
Cambridge boss Shaun Derry made a change by bringing on another striker in Gerry McDonagh and switching to 4-4-2 and it gave his side some impetus. Even then it was against the run of play when they scored on 35 minutes.
From Crawley’s point of view it was a disappointing goal to concede. Reds had all 11 players in their penalty area but Wharton was unchallenged when he rose to meet Piero Mingoia’s corner from the right and power a header past Glenn Morris.
The Reds’ keeper was in the wars again when he was clattered by Leon Legge, a challenge which earned the Cambridge defender a booking. Morris suffered a groin injury and was replaced at the break by Yusuf Mersin.
Mersin was called into action three minutes into the second half to push away Legge’s header after he outjumped McNerney at a corner but, as they had in the first half, Reds settled into the game again nicely, although Payne squandered a good position when he hit a free-kick, awarded for a foul on Cox, from 20 yards out well over the goal.
There was a double change by the visitors on the hour with Matt Harrold and Jordan Roberts replacing Djalo and Enzio Boldewijn and Harrold had a good chance when he was found at the back post by Cox’s corner but headed wide of the target.
Reds threw McNerney up front for the closing stages alongside Collins and Harrold but it was the hosts who sealed victory with their only shot on target in the second period. Cambridge counter-attack and Payne brought down McDonagh as he bore down on goal as the last man.
Referee Brett Huxtable pointed to the spot and showed the Crawley midfielder a straight red. Mersin got a hand to the penalty but Berry’s strike into the bottom right-hand corner had too much power.
Reds: Morris (Mersin 45), Young, Connolly, McNerney, Blackman, Boldewijn (Roberts), Djalo (Harrold 60), Payne, Cox, Smith, Collins. Unused subs: Clifford, Lelan, Yorwerth, Murphy.
Red card: Payne
Yellow cards: Djalo (dissent), Blackman (ungentlemanly conduct), Smith (booked)
Attendance: 5670 (177 Crawley)