Three first-half goals condemned Reds to defeat at Fratton Park against an impressive Portsmouth side in Sky Bet EFL 2 on Saturday.
Backed by a noisy home crowd of 16,347, the home side were two-up inside 12 minutes thanks to goals from Curtis Main and Gary Roberts and Main had his second of the contest seven minutes before the break.
The second half was more evenly contested but home keeper David Forde was seldom tested on a frustrating afternoon for the visitors and the 435 travelling fans.
Dermot Drummy made two changes to the side beaten by Notts County in Reds’ last EFL2 outing with Mark Connolly replacing Joe McNerney in central defencer and Adi Yussuf preferred to Billy Clifford in midfield.
Josh Payne returned to the bench after two games out with a foot problem but Jordan Roberts, Addison Garnett and Matt Harrold were still absent through injury and new signing Kbay Djalo was on international duty with Guinea-Bissau as they took on DR Congo in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Reds created the first chance on three minutes when Enzio Boldewijn teed up James Collins for a shot from 15 yards which flew just wide but the home side were soon on the offensive and they struck twice in three minutes to take charge.
Their ninth minute opener was created by Milan Lalkovic’s accurate pass inside Lewis Young on the Reds’ right which allowed Enda Stevens to attack the line and pull back a low cross which Main swept home from close range.
Their second was a disaster for Alex Davey. The on-loan defender gave the ball away on the edge of the box to Roberts and he gave Yusuf Mersin no chance with a right-foot finish from 15 yards into the top left-hand corner.
Reds were stunned and it took a few minutes for them to get their composure but they went close in the 18th minute. Jason Banton’s excellent pass gave Yussuf the chance to run at the Portsmouth defence and after cutting inside he forced David Forde to make a low save.
Blackman and Main were booked by referee Ben Toner before Reds went 3-0 down in the 38th minute. The influential Lalkovic’s shot took a deflection off Connolly and although Mersin showed great reactions to parry the ball it dropped conveniently for Main and he could hardly miss from inside the six-yard box.
Reds were really up against it but they produced another good attack just before the break when Collins’ pass put Banton away but under pressure from Christian Burgess he failed to keep his shot on target.
Reds made two changes five minutes into the second half. Blackman was replaced by Chris Arthur and Payne came on for Josh Yorwerth.
The start of the second period at least saw the sides competing on equal terms possession-wise and Young’s claims for handball against Stevens on 59 minutes were ignored by the referee when his right-wing cross was blocked.
As the visitors enjoyed a good spell, Tom Davies was booked for fouling Banton on the left-hand edge of the box but despite enjoying more of the ball Reds still struggled to test Forde in the home goal.
As the rain swept across Fratton Park Reds made their final change midway through the half when Yussuf was replaced by Bobson Bawling. The substitute nearly made an instant impact but his shot from 15 yards was blocked and when Reds recycled possession Smith could only direct a side-footed effort from distance straight at Forde. At the other end, Carl Baker cut in from the right to hit a curling shot just beyond the far post.
Collins dispossessed Pompey sub Kai Naismith with 14 minutes to go and teed up Bawling but his disappointing effort was well wide then on 85 minutes Davies bravely got in the way of Banton’s powerful drive after Crawley’s best player on the day had cut inside from the left.
In an attacking sense it summed up a frustrating afternoon for Crawley who probably had more possession than on their two previous visits to Fratton Park but failed to make good use of it in the final third as they failed to score in a game for the first time this season.