Inconsistency continues to plague Reds’ efforts to get themselves into the top half of the League 2 table.
On their first visit to the Hive, Crawley dug in to draw level after going 2-0 down thanks to two goals in three minutes through Mitch Hancox (75 minutes) and Jimmy Smith (78).
But having done the hard work Reds conceded twice more. John Akinde converted a controversial penalty against his former club before an unfortunate own goal by Lewis Young ended any hopes that Crawley could salvage something.
Mark Yates made one change to the team that had beaten Dagenham with Simon Walton returning to midfield after serving his one-match ban. Roarie Deacon dropped to the bench. Barnet included two ex-Reds’ strikers –Akinde, who started, and Shaun Batt, who had a loan spell at the club in 2012. The visitors’ formation saw Smith line up on the left-hand side of midfield.
Reds began brightly without creating a chance of note and in fact the first scare came in the visitors’ box in the 13th minute. Aaron McLean’s long-range free kick cannoned up off the defensive wall and it needed a combination of Hancox and Darryl Flahavan to eventually clear the danger.
Rhys Murphy, in the last game of his loan spell from Oldham, had a goal disallowed for offside and was then well dispossessed by Sam Togwell as he shaped to shoot but by then the game had become very scrappy, a capricious wind not helping proceedings.
Young was booked for a high challenge on Luke Gambitt before Reds created their best chance of the half in the 38th minute. Luke Rooney’s corner found Walton in the box and he clipped a lovely pass onto the head of skipper Sonny Bradley, whose header was tipped over by Ian Lawlor.
The Barnet keeper was forced into action again a minute later to save Walton’s low free kick from the left after Akinde had fouled Josh Yorwerth.
The hosts lost Michael Nelson to a suspected broken wrist in the 44th minute but their mood improved in the second of five minutes added on at the end of the half.
Gambin’s corner to the near post picked out the unmarked run of Dembele and he guided a free header past Flahavan from close range. Not for the first time this season Reds paid dearly for a lapse in concentration.
Josh Clarke was booked on the stroke of half-time for a foul on Bradley and if the first half had ended badly for Reds then the second period could not have started any worse.
On 51 minutes Bradley was penalised for a foul on Akinde on the right and in a repeat of Barnet’s first, Gambin picked out Dembele who rose to guide another header past Flahavan and inside the left-hand upright.
Reds responded positively and Matt Harrold was inches away from pulling one back in the 58th minute when he met Hancox’s excellent cross with a towering header which bounced just wide of the post.
Flahavan pushed a l0ng-range drive from Andy Yiadom around the post before Reds made a double change on 65 minutes as Deacon and Shamir Fenelon replaced Rooney and Harrold.
Lawlor had hardly been troubled in the second half but with 15 minutes to go he was beaten by Hancox. It looked like the left back was attempting a cross but his effort drifted over the home keeper and in off the far post.
It was the start of an amazing three-minute spell. Gwion Edwards’ cross from the right floated onto the top of the bar, Josh Yerworth made a terrific intervention at the other end to rob Akinde who then lofted the loose ball over the bar before Crawley levelled in the 78th minute.
Barnet only half-cleared Hancox’s cross to Smith and he sent a stunning right-foot volley past the helpless keeper from 20 yards to score his first goal since last Boxing Day.
At that stage the momentum was with Reds but instead Barnet scored twice in as many minutes to seal victory.
Akindestroked home a penalty in the 82nd minute, controversially awarded for a foul by Yorwerth on Curtis Weston moments after Reds’ appeals for a free kick, after Akinde appeared to barge Flahavan off his feet as they challenged for a through ball, were ignored by the referee.
And two minutes later it was all over for Crawley. Walton did well to dispossess Aaron McLean inside the box but his attempted clearance cannoned off Young and past the helpless Flahavan for an unfortunate own goal.
A third defeat in four for Reds who need to bounce back on Boxing Day when they entertain Stevenage.