Roarie Deacon scored against his former club in the 90th minute to ensure a Happy Christmas for Reds and their fans.
The striker came off the bench to score from close range just when it looked as if Michael Tonge’s 86th-minute penalty had earned Stevenage a point after Gwion Edwards had ended a 14-match goal drought with a superb finish midway through the second half to put Crawley ahead.
Mark Yates made three changes to the side beaten by Barnet a week ago. Callum Preston came in for Darryl Flahavan, who had an ankle problem, and there were recalls for Jon Ashton, one of five ex-Stevenage players in the Reds’ squad, and Shamir Fenelon. Rhys Murphy had returned to Oldham at the end of his loan spell while Luke Rooney dropped to the bench.
Stevenage had to make a late change to their starting XI after Jerome Okimo hurt himself in the warm-up and was replaced by Ryan Johnson. Callum McFadzean, brother of former Reds’ skipper Kyle, was also included by the visitors.
Skipper Sonny Bradley lined up at left-back in a 4-4-2 to allow Walton to partner Josh Yorwerth in the centre with Mitch Hancox pushing into left midfield.
Preston nearly claimed a second-minute assist as Reds made a bright start. His clearance landed beyond the Stevenage defence but Fenelon waited a fraction too long to get the ball under control and Chris Day came out to smother.
A subdued mood in the stands was reflected on the pitch early on. Reds looked more dangerous in the first quarter and worked hard without testing Day. Matt Harrold headed wide after good work by Jimmy Smith then space opened up for Lewis Young in the box but he oddly elected to try and find Fenelon instead of taking on the shot himself and the ball rolled out of play.
Stevenage offered their first threat in the 24th minute when Johnson’s diagonal ball picked out McFadzean inside the six-yard box but Walton and Bradley blocked his shot effectively.
Gwion Edwards turned past Johnson in the 26th minute and surged into the box but his cross was blocked for a fruitless corner then five minutes later the Welshman’s pass found Hancox in space but the Birmingham loanee’s volley was well off target.
Walton’s calming presence had at least given the Reds’ defence a more secure look and Reds had another good spell as half-time approached but still didn’t test Day, even when Edwards was tripped inside the D. Walton’s free kick came back off the wall to Young whose first-time effort was also blocked.
Reds have made a bad habit of starting the second half slowly and to the manager’s evident frustration it happened again and they were indebted to Preston twice in as many minutes. First the keeper pushed away Tom Pett’s right-foot side-footer and then made an even better save to turn Rodhell Gordon’s low drive around the post.
Reds were on the back foot at this stage, forced to try and play on the counter. Fenelon forced Day into his first save – a routine one – from an angled drive before Edwards led another break, skinning Johnson down the right and pulling the ball back to Hancox who went for precision rather than power 15 yards out but pulled his shot a yard wide.
Crawley made their first change on the hour when Lee Barnard replaced Fenelon and four minutes later he got onto the end of Harrold’s flick but his first-time shot flew over the roof of the Structured Communications Stand.
But Reds had better luck in their next attack on 68 minutes when they broke the deadlock. Harrold’s header found Edwards who made a yard of space before firing low and hard past Day inside the left-hand post from 15 yards.
Bradley hooked the loose ball just wide as Reds pressed for a second but with four minutes to go Stevenage drew level.
Yorwerth tried to shepherd the ball back to Preston but under pressure from Lee he brought the Stevenage substitution down and referee Bull awarded a penalty which Tonge drove down the middle to make it 1-1.
It looked like a point each but on the stroke of full-time Deacon, who had only replaced Harrold five minutes earlier, chose the perfect moment to score his fifth goal of the season. Hancox won a free kick on the left which he whipped into the box, Yorwerth won the crucial header at the far post to give Deacon a tap-in from a yard.
Reds negotiated four added minutes to claim a precious three points.