Gwion Edwards’ eighth goal of the season came in vain as Reds suffered a fifth successive defeat to League 2 champions Northampton at Sixfields.
The midfielder scored a cracking free kick from the edge of the box in the 85th minute to give Crawley hope after Ricky Holmes, with a 48th-minute penalty, and a close-range effort by John-Joe O’Toole put the Cobblers on course to extend their unbeaten run to 20 games.
Andy Bond was shown a straight red for a challenge on Sam Hoskins and will miss the remaining three games of the season as a result.
Reds made two changes with Shamir Fenelon and Frankie Sutherland replacing Lyle Della-Verde and Jon Ashton and Mark Yates opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jimmy Smith and Andy Bond the sitting midfielders.
Mark Yates had jokingly hoped before the game that the champions may have over-celebrated and there certainly wasn’t the usual level of intensity in Northampton’s performance in a pretty flat first half-hour.
With Smith and Bond protecting the back four diligently and Joe McNerney and Sonny Bradley relishing the challenge of blunting the champions the home side created little initially.
Reds had a chance in the 20th minute when Edwards ended a swift counter-attack with a skidding low drive that went a yard wide while at the other end Jack Rose got fully behind a 30-yard effort from O’Toole.
Gradually, though, the Cobblers began to turn up the heat. Ricky Holmes, in particular, became an increasing threat with his clever use of the ball and appreciation of space down the right.
Yet it wasn’t until the 44th minute before Rose was tested again. McNerney’s slip presented Hoskins with a sight at goal but the Reds’ keeper stood tall to block his drive from 15 yards. Hoskins was found again in space moments later by Josh Lelan but didn’t trouble Rose on that occasion.
But Rose was beaten three minutes into the second half, ironically moments after Crawley nearly scored. Edwards made his way into the left-hand channel in the box and got his shot way under pressure from Zander Diamond, but Adam Smith got down well to keep it out.
Moments later Lanre Oyebanjo was penalised for a push on Adams inside the six-yard box and despite Reds’ protests the referee awarded a penalty which Holmes smashed into the left-hand corner of the goal.
Northampton grew visibly in confidence and for the next 15 minutes pushed hard for a second goal. There were chances for Marquis and Hoskins but neither tested Rose while Reds struggled for a while to get into the Northampton final third before Shamir Fenelon cut inside and fired goalwards although Smith was able to make an easy stop.
Gwion Edwards goes close in the first half at Sixfields
Crawley had a let-off in the 72nd minute when Rod McDonald’s volley hit team-mate O’Toole on the line and the ball deflected onto the bar before McNerney hooked it clear.
Four minutes later Rose tipped Holmes’ inswinging free kick onto the bar but the home side’s pressure finally told in the 82nd minute when O’Toole turned to fire home from close range after Marquis’s shot had only been partially cleared.
Reds brought on Jon Ashton and Roarie Deacon and pushed Bradley up front and when the latter pair linked up McDonald brought down Deacon 20 yards out and Edwards smashed the free kick with his right foot past a helpless Smith to give the visitors hope.
But Crawley were reduced to ten men when Bond was given a straight red for a late challenge on Hoskins.
Lewis Young came on for Oyebanjo with three minutes to go but the home side held on for victory.