Reds slipped to their fourth straight League One defeat after two goals in the last ten minutes earned Bristol City their first home win since March.
It was harsh on the visitors who had often looked the more threatening side in a very scrappy encounter but they were once again undone by defensive mistakes when Kyle McFadzean failed to deal with a back-header from Josh Simpson and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas nipped in.
And City got a second two minutes from time when Joe Bryan thrashed a left-foot shot past Paul Jones after beating the offside trap in the 87th minute.
Richie Barker made two changes to the side beaten by a penalty at home to Brentford on Saturday with Jamie Proctor and James Hurst coming into the side. Hurst’s first League start since September 14 at right-back meant a return to central midfield for skipper Josh Simpson. Bristol City boss Sean O’Driscoll, who had a brief spell in charge of Reds in 2012, made four changes and named an attacking 4-3-3 line up.
Reds made a bright start and in the second minute Jamie Proctor skipped past a couple of challenges before losing the ball under his feet as he was about to shoot. City then threatened but Jay Emmanuel-Thomas directed his header from a central position wide of the post.
Nicky Adams was the next to go close but when he was forced wide he dragged his shot wide of the far post after beating the offside trap.
Emile Sinclair and Kyle Bennett were well off target with long-range shots as Reds continued to threaten but Paul Jones had to get down smartly to gather a cross from Joe Bryan after Emmanuel-Jones had found the wide man with a good knockdown.
Elliott Parish in the home goal was forced to push away a well-struck shot by Sinclair on 17 minutes after he had been teed up by Proctor then when Bennett was fouled by Simon Gillett in a central position Adams hit a free-kick into the wall.
Neither side looked particularly threatening for the next 20 minutes with Reds let down by a poor final ball when they did get forward while Jones was a virtual spectator as the men in front of him worked hard when Crawley didn’t have possession to keep the hosts at bay.
The Crawley keeper did have to make a save in stoppage time to hold onto Bryan’s effort from 20 yards but in truth it had been a forgettable first 45 minutes.
Bristol began the second period positively and Jones was forced to push a powerful low drive from Sam Baldock round the post, but Reds soon began to threaten again and on the hour
Simpson broke into the box and saw his shot blocked then Hurst picked up the loose ball and cut inside but his powerful effort was deflected off target by a defender.
City responded with a good move on 74 minutes when Baldock’s pass found Gillett in space on the edge of the box but he shot wide.
With 10 minutes to go the home side made the break through. Simpson’s back header should have been dealt with by McFadzean but he stumbled under pressure from EMMANUEL-THOMAS who fired past the exposed Jones for his 12th goal of the season.
It was harsh on Reds but once again a defensive slip had been ruthlessly punished and they were nearly undone again when another McFadzean slip let in Baldock but Jones made a good save.
At the other end Proctor had two great chances to level. His header from Adams’ cross was tipped over by Parish and then he found space on the left but fired wide of the target.
Reds conceded again three minutes from time. Appeals for a foul on Adams by Karleigh Osborne deep in the City half fell on deaf ears and the defender thumped the ball forward. As Reds tried to play offside, BRYAN timed his run to perfection and raced through before lashing a powerful shot past Jones.
So 80 minutes of good work had been undone by two slip-ups and once again Reds had discovered how unforgiving life can be in as hard a league as this.