A goal in each half ended Reds’ mini revival as they went down 2-0 at Preston North End in Sky Bet League One.
The visitors were unlucky to be trailing at the break after Gavin Tomlin hit the underside of the bar and Gwion Edwards forced an athletic save out of Jamie Jones.
But goals from Bailey Wright (22) and Joe Garner’s 66th-minute penalty, after handball by Mat Sadler, were enough for Preston to claim all three points.
John Gregory made three changes to the team that drew 0-0 at Doncaster on Tuesday. In came debutant Marvin Elliott, Conor Henderson and fit-again Gwion Edwards with Josh Wright, the injured Ryan Dickson and Keith Keane, who was unable to play against his parent club as part of his loan deal, dropping out of the XI. Wright was among the subs with Emmett O'Connor also recalled to the bench.
Preston had tossed away a 3-0 lead at home to Chesterfield on Tuesday so it was no surprise to see them starting on the front foot and Josh Brownhill stung Jamie Ashdown's palms in the second minute.
But Reds soon settled. Elliott forced a save out of Jamie Jones in the fourth minute and five minutes later the home keeper made a superb save after Henderson had played a clever free kick to Edwards. The Welsh winger beat his marker before letting fly from 20 yards and Jones pushed his shot around the post.
Edwards threatened again with a mazy crossfield run which ended in a shot that flew just past the right-hand post. With Elliott doing a highly effective job shielding the back four Reds were able to get forward in more numbers than they had at Doncaster on Tuesday.
But Preston were a threat themselves with Joe Garner the danger man. He headed Callum Woods' cross straight at Ashdown and on 21 minutes was denied again by the Crawley keeper who pushed his header away from an excellent cross by Will Hayhurst.
From the corner, though, Reds fell behind. They didn't deal with Alan Browne's cross and defender WRIGHT swept his shot past a helpless Ashdown to make it 1-0 on 22 minutes.
Crawley rallied and were inches away from equalising four minutes later when Henderson’s free kick dropped to Gavin Tomlin in a crowded six-yard box and his shot came back off the underside of the bar before Preston cleared. Elliott met the subsequent corner from Jimmy Smith but flashed a powerful header just wide.
Preston seemed content to try and hit Reds on the break and they had two good chances before the break to add to their lead. Paul Gallagher unselfishly teed up Browne but he side-footed wide with only Ashdown to beat and in stoppage time a combination of Mat Sadler and Joe Walsh blocked Garner’s shot after he had looked certain to capitalise on a rare mistake by Dean Leacock.
The second half, in contrast to the first 45, took time to get going with neither side able to impose themselves. John Gregory made two changes with Wright replacing Henderson (55 min) before Tomlin limped off six minutes later with Matt Harrold taking his place.
But Preston doubled their lead on 64 minutes from the penalty spot. Gallagher’s cross was handled by Mat Sadler as he tussled with Garner and referee Wright pointed straight to the spot and GARNER gave no chance with a firmly struck spot kick.
Garner nearly got his second on 72 minutes after a slalom into the box he opened up his body to try and curl the ball past Ashdown, but the Reds’ keeper made a relatively easy save.
After creating so much in the first half Reds had been unable to make much attacking headway since the break. Harrold and McLeod were paired together up front and Edwards switched to the left to try and create something in the closing stages but a set-piece still looked their best way of getting a goal.
Gallagher went close to netting a third Preston goal with a free kick which dipped over the wall but landed on the roof of the net.
Reds made their final change with seven minutes to go when Lewis Young replaced Bawling but there was no way back for the visitors as Preston saw the game out comfortably enough, although Edwards was denied a consolation in the 90th minute when he got on the end of Wright's cross and his effort was pushed around the post by Jones.
Reds now have to pick themselves up again ahead of next Saturday's home game against Yeovil Town.