Reds suffered their first defeat in five as the interim management duo of Gary Alexander and Martin Hinshelwood saw their side suffer a frustrating setback against a Crewe side who played with ten men for the last 37 minutes.
Jamie Proctor hit the underside of the bar and Crewe defended heroically before pinching the points nine minutes from time through subs Chuks Aneke. Even then Andy Drury headed over a glorious opportunity to get his side the point that was the least they deserved.
The interim management duo made two changes to the side which drew 0-0 with Swindon on Tuesday as Emile Sinclair was brought in up front and Joe Walsh returned in central defence with Mark Connolly switching to right back in place of James Hurst. Alexander named himself among the subs.
Reds lined up with a conventional 4-4-2 formation with Nicky Adams on the left and Billy Clarke on the opposite flank and in the early stages it was the visitors that did most of the pressing.
Paul Jones was the first keeper to be called into action when he comfortably saved Byron Moore’s strike from 25 yards before Clarke went desperately close at the other end on 15 minutes. Adams was fouled 22 yards out in a central position and Clarke’s free kick curled half a yard wide of the right-hand post.
A minute later Josh Simpson’s perfectly-weighted pass sent Jamie Proctor away and it needed an excellent covering challenge from Harry Davis to deflect his goalbound shot to safety.
Moore and Matt Tootle both cut in from the flanks to get shots away but it was Reds who should have gone ahead after 32 minutes. Proctor’s pace and trickery took him past Adam Dugdale and his powerful shot bounced out off the underside of the bar with Adams just unable to reach the ball and head it in.
The game was already quite stretched and Crewe went close two minutes before the break when left-back Kelvin Mellor headed Moore’s cross wide when anything on target would have beaten Jones.
Adams tested Neil Etheridge with a shot on 53 minutes in the first meaningful action of the second period and two minutes later Crewe found themselves down to ten men. Striker Vadaine Oliver, who had been booked just after the break for a foul on Connolly, dived in the box under a challenge by Walsh and was shown a second yellow for stimulation and was off.
The decision certainly incensed the Crewe fans and it helped to lift the atmosphere although Reds were now in the ascendancy. Tootle cleared a shot off the line from Clarke on 63 minutes with Etheridge grabbing the loose ball under pressure from Proctor, who was denied again seven minutes later when his shot on the turn from Adams’ pass was deflected for a corner.
By then Reds had brought on Mike Jones and Drury with Clarke going up front and Adams given a free role just behind the front two.
Dugdale came to Crewe’s rescue with 16 minutes to go when he produced a superb block to prevent Mat Sadler’s shot from close range going in as Reds kept up the pressure in search of the breakthrough.
Instead it came at the other end after 81 minutes when Chuks ANEKE, who had only been on the pitch for three minutes, found a yard of space in the Reds’ box to head in a cross from Tootle which took a deflection and seemed to leave the Crawley defence flat-footed.
Aneke then worked himself another opportunity but his shot was cleared from in front of goal by Andy Drury.
The midfielder had his head in his hands at the other end in the closing moments when Adams picked out his run into the box with a superb cross but Drury headed over the target when anything at goal would have resulted in the equaliser.
Into injury time and Abdul Osman produced another great block, typical of a heroic defensive effort by Crewe, to thwart Mike Jones. It was that sort of afternoon for a frustrated Crawley side who will still be wondering how they lost the game as they head back down the M6.