Reds slumped to a fourth successive defeat on a frustrating night at Vale Park where both sides finished with ten men and the home side came from behind to snatch a barely deserved three points.
Billy Clarke’s 31st-minute penalty had given Reds a deserved lead but Billy Knott hammered home an equaliser from 25 yards before keeper Paul Jones was unable to keep out Doug Loft’s 20 yarder which squirmed under his dive and rolled into the net.
Reds played the last quarter of the contest with ten men after Dannie Bulman picked up a second booking while Vale defender Chris Robertson was shown a straight red in stoppage time following a melee involving several players.
John Gregory made two changes to the side beaten at Preston on Saturday. Rory Fallon started up front and Paul Connolly came in at right-back, allowing Josh Simpson to replace Sergio Torres in central midfield.
After defeats in their previous three games it was important Reds responded and they were soon on the front foot and creating chances.
They nearly scored in the second minute when skipper Josh Simpson made a break to the line and pulled the ball into Fallon’s path but his shot was blocked by Joe Davis.
Richard Duffy then blocked Mike Jones’ effort after Clarke had dinked the ball over the Vale defence into his path as Reds made a confident start.
The hosts threatened for the first time in the 16th minute when Jennison Myrie-Williams dug out a shot which Paul Jones blocked with his foot, but it was a rare moment of alarm for Reds who continued to dominate.
On 19 minutes it took a superb goalline clearance from Richard Duffy to deny Clarke after he connected with Simpson’s cross then Dannie Bulman found Clarke but he could only shoot straight at keeper Sam Johnson.
Fallon then fired over after more good work by Clarke and Reds were finally rewarded for their dominance on 37 minutes. Simpson’s pass caught Davis flat-footed and when Fallon tried to turn him he was brought down for a penalty, which was awarded on the say-so of the assistant referee. CLARKE sent Johnson the wrong way with a confidently-struck penalty.
Vale responded positively and midfielder Billy Knott wasted a good chance to equalise in the 42nd minute when he cut inside his marker but lifted hi shot over from 10 yards.
But Reds nearly scored again just before the break when Joe Walsh met Andy Drury’s corner with a powerful header which flew just over the bar.
Fallon wasn’t far away just after the break with a header from Mat Sadler’s cross but KNOTT drew Vale level with a spectacular strike on 50 minutes. Reds cleared their lines but the midfielder took aim from 25 yards and his shot flew into the top corner past a helpless Jones.
It was a cruel blow for Crawley but they continued to take the fight to their hosts. Fallon got on the end of Walsh’s long ball but his cushioned volley flew just over with Johnson beaten.
Fallon then put Clarke away after great link-up play but his cross was cleared by a defender with Simpson waiting to pounce.
Reds were then reduced to ten men when Bulman, who was booked for a first half foul, picked up a second yellow after an off-the-ball tussle with Knott.
But the visitors continued to create chances. Johnson saved his outstretched boot after Clarke got through and should have scored before he tested the keeper from 15 yards.
But disaster struck with eight minutes to go. LOFT picked up a loose ball 20 yards out and let fly and Jones, so often Reds’ saviour this season, watched in horror as the ball squirmed under him and rolled into the net.
It was harsh on Reds but sub Jamie Proctor thought he had rescued a point with a bullet header past Johnson from Drury’s corner only to be flagged offside.
Tempers boiled over in the closing stages when Robertson was shown a straight red after players from both sides reacted to a bad challenge on Sergio Torres.
Reds pushed men forward but Vale held firm to complete the double over Crawley and leaving Gregory’s men contemplating a long journey home wondering how they didn’t get anything from this game.