Reds exited the Capital One Cup at the first round stage despite a decent performance against League One Peterborough at the ABAX Stadium.
Crawley made the worst possible start, going behind to Conor Washington’s calm finish in the second minute. But they recovered to cause lots of problems in the remainder of the first half and went close to a leveller when Matt Harrold’s close-range header hit the post.
But Marcus Maddison doubled Posh’s lead four minutes after the break and there was no way back for Reds, although they kept going with Luke Rooney and Sonny Bradley going close to pulling a goal back.
Mark Yates made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 in League Two on Saturday. Bryan Van Den Bogaert came in at left back after he received international clearance earlier in the day and there was a first Reds’ start for Shamir Fenelon while Lewis Young and Matt Harrold also came in.
Former Reds’ youth team player Harry Anderson and ex-Crawley defender Michael Bostwick lined up for a Posh team showing two changes to the team beaten 2-0 at Rochdale on Saturday.
It was at London Road, of course, where Reds lost 4-3 in the penultimate game of last season after Posh scored two goals in the last two minutes and the Reds’ fans must have sensed déjà vu when their team fell behind after just two minutes of this encounter.
Midfielder Anderson made the goal when he beat Van Den Bogaert on the right to tee up Washington, whose low shot into the far corner gave Freddie Woodman no chance.
It was the worst possible start for Reds but they way they responded will have given the travelling fans as well as Mark Yates lots of encouragement.
Washington saw a 31st-minute volley turned over on the stretch by Woodman, who pushed out an angled drive from the Posh talisman just before half-time.
But those efforts apart, the hosts were kept at bay and Reds enjoyed some really good spells, knitting together some passing moves that were both easy on the eye and stretched the home side as well.
Ben Alnwick made his first save on 22 minutes to keep out Fenelon’s shot on the turn and with Luke Rooney and Jimmy Smith winning lots of midfield possession the visitors continued to look good.
Their best chance of the half came on 35 minutes. Rooney made a yard of space to pick out Harrold at the far post and his thumping header came back off the post to defender Alex Davey who hacked it half a yard wide of his own goal.
Young then attacked the space outside the box and let fly with his right foot, but Alnwick was equal to his effort with a flying tip-over for a corner. Alnwick showed good awareness from the flag-kick, pouncing on the ball in the six-yard box when it looked as if Roarie Deacon might stab it into the net.
Reds could have done without half-time such was their momentum and four minutes into the second half they found themselves 2-0 down.
Rooney gave the ball away inside the Posh half and Kgosi Ntihe hurdled a challenge from Van Den Bogaert to gallop away down the right. With Reds struggling to get cover back he teed up Maddison who curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
For the first time since the opening few minutes Posh were on top and Joe Gormley nearly got a third when his lob after he had latched onto a long ball beat Woodman but came back off the post.
Reds made their first change on 58 minutes when Lee Barnard replaced Deacon but moments later Gormley missed an absolute sitter, heading wide from three yards after he’d been found unmarked by Kgosi Ntihe.
Posh nearly scored again on 62 minutes when Bostwick let fly from distance and Woodman could only palm the ball, which must have moved in the air, into the path of Gabriel Zakuani, but he missed the target from close range, his effort drifting wide of the left-hand post.
Gwion Edwards came on for Fenelon as Reds looked for a way back and Rooney nearly provided it midway through the half when his fiercely struck drive from 25 yards skidded just past the left-hand post.
As the game began to peter out Reds kept looking for a way back into the contest. With ten minutes to go Harrold got on the end of Liam Donnelly’s angled free kick and the ball dropped for Bradley, but the skipper couldn’t quite keep his effort on target and it hit the side netting before Alnwick denied Rooney at full stretch in stoppage time.
It summed up a frustrating night in front of goal for Reds and their noisy contingent of 55 travelling fans.