Reds suffered a third successive Sky Bet EFL 2 defeat on a frustrating afternoon in drizzly Stevenage.
The visitors had their moments and often looked dangerous, but they were undone by two goals either side of half-time.
Tyler Walker found the bottom in the 43rd minute and Jack King was given space to fire past Mitchell Beeney from distance nine minutes into the second half.
James Collins scored his third goal of the season with a close-range header four minutes from time but the visitors couldn’t find the equaliser that their overall play probably deserved.
Dermot Drummy had rung the changes after two successive defeats with Mitchell Beeney, Chris Arthur, Joe McNerney, Josh Payne and Billy Clifford returning to the side. There was no place for Kaby Djaio, whose international clearance had not arrived.
Reds began brightly in the Hertfordshire rain and created two good chances in the opening five minutes. Josh Payne’s long-range effort was deflected inches wide and Collins met Payne’s corner but directed his shot from 12 yards just past the right-hand upright. Jason Banton’s left-wing cross then eluded Collins by a matter of inches in front of goal.
The visitors certainly caused Stevenage problems on the break in the first half with their pace but two good free-kick positions on the edge of the box came to nothing as Payne’s effort from the left-hand corner came back off the defensive wall before Jimmy Smith drilled his effort from the right into the stands.
The home side began to get on top as the half progressed and would have taken the lead were it not for a heroic block by Mark Connolly who got in the way of Walker’s close-range drive moments after a header by King had come back off the crossbar.
Moments later though we saw more great defending, this time at the other end, to prevent Banton from scoring. Enzio Boldewijn’s shot was deflected into his path but Banton’s effort from ten yards was superbly blocked by Fraser Franks.
There had been little to choose between the teams in an eminently watchable first half but it was Stevenage who broke the deadlock in the 44th minute. Boldewijn was robbed by Andrew Fox whose pass put Walker away. He still had a lot to do with three defenders around him but the loanee found enough space to drill an angled shot across Beeney and inside the far post.
It was a shade harsh on Reds given their performance up until then but a poor goal to concede nonetheless.
They would have started the second period confident of getting back into the game and should have done so on 48 minutes. Payne’s clever pass found Smith making a good run inside the box but the skipper’s volley failed to test Jamie Jones.
Instead, Stevenage doubled their lead on 54 minutes. Reds were stretched defensively on the right and when the ball was pulled back by King who wasn’t closed down and side-footed past Beeney and into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
The Head Coach made changes with Andre Blackman, Adi Yussuf and Bobson Bawling all coming on but the hosts, with their tails up, scented a third and Matt Godden wasn’t far away with a shot on the run as Joe McNerney did enough to put him off.
Beeney pushed away a piledriver from King which was struck with force from 25 yards before Crawley created a good chance when Yussuf pulled the ball back for Collins who wrapped his right foot around it but couldn’t keep it down.
With 15 minutes to go Reds began to exert concerted pressure. Yussuf failed to get his shot away after being found by Smith then Franks did well to clear after Lewis Young’s cross had left Jones struggling.
But with four minutes to go they got one back. Clifford did well to get to the byline down the right, his cross got a deflection which took some pace off the ball and Collins attacked the ball and headed past Jamie Jones from a yard out.
And the striker thought he’d equalised in the 89th minute when he chested down Yussuf’s cross and volleyed home but the referee had already penalised him for a foul.
Reds pushed for an equaliser and had claims for a penalty for a foul on Yussuf turned down in stoppage time but it was the home side who took the three points.