Substitute Luke Rooney scored a stunning injury-time equaliser as Reds twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Exeter City.
Rooney chipped home goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik from 20 yards to earn his side a fully deserved point in a lively clash at St James’ Park.
Alex Nicholls gave the hosts an early lead but Sonny Bradley’s first goal of the season on his 50th appearance for the club was no more than Reds deserved.
Tom Nichols restored Exeter’s lead in first-half stoppage time and despite increasing pressure in the closing quarter of the game the visitors looked as if they would return home empty-handed. But then Rooney hurdled a couple of challenges before scoring a superb first goal for the club with a chip from the edge of the box into the top corner.
Reds made two changes to the side that was knocked out of the FA Cup by Luton last Saturday. With Josh Yorwerth on international duty, Jon Ashton came into central defence for his first start since October 10 while Mitch Hancox replaced Christian Scales at left back.
An impeccably observed minute’s silence took place before kick off in memory of those who lost their lives in the atrocities in Paris on Friday.
Reds made a good start and forced a couple of early corners, but they fell behind in the eighth minute. Nicholls had time and space on the left-hand side of the box to control a pass from namesake Tom and crash a shot from about 15 yards at an angle that went in off the underside of the bar for his fifth goal of the season.
The goal infused the home side with confidence and they needed no invitation to play a passing game that was easy on the eye. Reds had enjoyed some good possession in the opening quarter of the contest too with Hancox’s low drive from 25 yards, which picked up pace off the wet turf, forcing Grecians’ keeper Bobby Olejnik to scramble to his right as it flew just wide.
But there was no chance for Olejnik on 28 minutes when skipper Bradley equalised. Walton’s outswinging corner from the right was met by an unmarked skipper ten yards out and his powerful header flew inside the left-hand post. On the balance of play it was no more than Reds deserved and the visitors grew in confidence as a result.
A good spell ended with Jimmy Smith drilling a shot wide from the edge of the box but Daryl Flahavan came to Reds’ rescue on on 37 minutes. Nichols ran at a retreating defence before finding Clinton Morrison on the left and his curling effort was turned over the bar at full stretch by the Crawley keeper.
Exeter captain Jordan Moore-Taylor’s volley from the resultant corner was deflected wide but Roarie Deacon responded with a long-range effort that flew wide before Matt Harrold’s shot on the turn inside the box was blocked by a defender.
But two minutes into first-half stoppage time Exeter went back in front. Once again Reds were guilty of
giving an opponent too much room, on this occasion Nichols who lined up a volley from the right-hand edge of the box which flew past a helpless Flahavan.
It was a blow for Reds and there was another two minutes after the break when Harrold and Ashton clashed heads and Ashton could not continue. He was replaced by Rooney in the 52nd minute with Walton dropping in alongside Bradley in central defence.
Edwards nearly unlocked the Exeter defence when he cut in from the left and his cross just eluded Harrold at the far post but the hosts were inches away from a third goal when Young headed a shot from Morrison off the line following a corner.
As the game entered its last quarter Harrold was booked for a late challenge on Jamie McAllister and Exeter seemed to have some control with Reds having failed to test Olejnik at that point in the second half.
Mark Yates made his second change with 20 minutes to go when Shamir Fenelon came on for Murphy and the striker nearly equalised with 14 minutes to go. Deacon’s measured pass gave Edwards the opportunity to pull the ball back and after Harrold dummied, Fenelon side-footed straight at Olejnik.
Reds made their final substitution with 13 minutes to go when Lee Barnard replaced Harrold and moments later Olejnik was called into action again to turn a shot from an angle by Edwards over his crossbar. Smith then curled a free kick from 22 yards onto the roof of the net as the visitors pressed for the equaliser their share of possession deserved.
Barnard needed emergency repairs for a bloody nose but it was Exeter who were on the ropes in the closing stages. The pressure finally told in the second minute of stoppage time when Rooney scored a contender for goal of the season to earn Crawley the point they fully deserved.