Josh Yorwerth was an unlikely hero for Reds after he came off the bench to earn Reds three points at St James’ Park.
Two minutes after coming on, the Welshman found the bottom corner to earn resilient Reds their second win of the EFL 2 campaign and maintain their unbeaten record after three games.
Crawley had to defend well at times with Ollie Watkins hitting the bar and firing over from a great position in the second half before Yorwerth sent the 64 travelling fans into delirium after scoring in front of them with seven minutes to go.
Reds made one change to the side which picked up a point at Doncaster. Joe McNerney was rested and Mark Connolly came into central defence. Adi Yussuf (hamstring) and Jordan Roberts (toe) were both missing again.
The hosts included three former Crawley loanees: defender Lloyd James, midfielder Jake Taylor and striker Liam McAlinden. The home defence included 15-year-old Ethan Ampadu, who is reportedly attracting interest from Arsenal.
Reds made a positive start and carved out two good chances in the first 11 minutes. Enzio Boldewijn made space down the right in the second minute and his pass found Josh Payne lurking in space on the edge of the box, but the midfielder’s right-foot shot drifted a yard over the target.
Billy Clifford then worked a yard of space after patient build-up by the visitors, but he too was off target from the edge of the box.
Exeter then had their best spell of the half and could consider themselves unfortunate not to break the deadlock.
Connolly did just enough to divert Robbie Simpson’s shot wide after good work down the right by Taylor and in the 14th minute Exeter went even closer when Ollie Watkins’ over-head kick clipped the top of the bar. Yusuf Mersin then got down well to push away Simpson’s shot as City created three good chances in as many minutes.
Reds re-grouped, though, and for the rest of the half they kept Exeter at arm’s length without creating much at the other end until the 43rd minute when home keeper Bobby Olejnik plunged to his right to push away James Collins’ shot after the chance had been created by a surging run and lay-off by Boldewijn, the brightest spark for Crawley in the first half.
Reds settled first in the second period but most of the play was concentrated in midfield. Shortly after Simpson had headed James’ deep free kick well wide the hosts brought off McAliden and brought on Connor Riley-Rowe with the dangerous Watkins moving into a more central position.
Reds made an alteration of their own on 67 minutes with Matt Harrold replacing Billy Clifford and Collins dropping back into a slightly deeper role but they were fortunate not to go behind moments later. Taylor’s ball in from the left was only partially cleared by Connolly to Watkins 15 yards out but he blazed his first-time shot into the home fans behind the goal. Andre Blackman then blocked a shot from Ryan Harley as the hosts searched for the opener.
Simpson headed a yard wide of Mersin’s post, from a good cross by James, with 15 minutes to go then Reds had a great chance of their own. A long ball bounced over the home defence but Collins elected to hit the shot first-time when he could have controlled it and gone towards goal and it sailed over the bar. At the other end Mersin got down well to hold Watkins curler.
The game looked destined to end in stalemate but two minutes after coming on for Payne, it was YORWERTH who broke the deadlock. Harrold did well to lay the ball into the Welshman’s path and he slalomed his way past two challenges before picking his spot in the bottom right-hand corner from 15 yards.
James curled a free kick just wide in the second minute of stoppage time but not long after the Crawley players and supporters could celebrate a first ever win over the Grecians together.