Reds suffered their first defeat in eight league and cup games on a disappointing afternoon at Cheltenham.
The hosts were ahead after just three minutes through Billy Waters and Jack Munns doubled their advantage in the 62nd minute.
Kaby Djalo pulled one back with his first goal for the club 14 minutes from time but the Reds couldn’t find an equaliser as Cheltenham, who also hit the woodwork twice, held on.
Dermot Drummy made one change to the side which drew at Hartlepool with Chris Arthur replacing the suspended Andre Blackman. Blackman was one of eight absentees from the squad. Josh Payne, Matt Harrold, Addison Garnett and Jordan Roberts were joined by Alex Davey on the injured list with Davey out because of sickness. Also missing were Dean Cox and Josh Yorwerth, who is on loan at Merthyr Town.
Reds had conceded seven goals on their previous two visits to Cheltenham and they found themselves behind after just three minutes.
Kyle Storer’s ball down the middle ricocheted off Mark Connolly as he tried to clear and into the path of Waters, who calmly slotted the ball past Glenn Morris from 12 yards.
Cheltenham had their tails up in the early stages. Connolly blocked an angled drive from Waters in the ninth minute and the goalscorer, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday, looked a handful. When Billy Clifford gave the ball away midway through the half Waters had a yard of space on the left-hand edge of the box and went for placement rather than power and his effort went a yard wide.
Reds gradually began to get a grip on the game but they created nothing of note in the first half as they struggled to get their passing game going in the final third.
The home fans were incensed when referee Graham Horwood turned down appeals for a penalty after James Dayton went to ground under a challenge from Djalo and their frustrations were voiced again when Jordan Cranston was booked in stoppage time for a foul on Lewis Young. The free kick came to nothing and aptly summed up a flat first-half performance by the visitors.
There was a change at the break as Bobson Bawling replaced Jason Banton but Reds were fortunate not to concede a second two minutes after the re-start when Munns fastened onto a clearance and his left-foot volley beat Morris but came back off the inside of the post.
Joe McNerney was booked for fouling Waters before Bawling almost made an immediate impact when he cut in from the left and forced Russell Griffiths into his first save as he tipped over the substitute’s well-struck effort.
Finally, the game had some tempo. Morris saved Danny Wright’s deflected effort then top scorer James Collins was inches away from getting a touch when Enzio Boldewijn fired an excellent ball across the face of the home goal.
Djalo was a yard off target with a volley from the edge of the box before the hosts doubled their lead in the 62nd minute.
Waters was initially denied first by Morris and then, when he fired the loose ball goalwards, by a terrific block from Connolly. But the rebound fell into the path of Munns and he hammered it between the two defenders on the line from 12 yards to make it 2-0.
Aryan Tajbakhsh came on to make his league debut in place of Jimmy Smith for Reds but they nearly conceded again when Wright burst into the box but lifted his shot well over Morris’s goal.
Tajbakhsh came close to reducing the arrears in the 69th minute when good work by Collins and Djalo gave him a sight of goal 20 yards out and his right-foot shot was only a yard wide. Boldewijn saw a shot palmed out by Griffiths four minutes later but no one in a black shirt was able to take advantage.
Reds made their final change when Adi Yussuf came on for Billy Clifford as Crawley switched to a 4-4-2 formation.
Joe McNerney went desperately close to reducing the arrears with 14 minutes to go when Yussuf turned inside the box but both McNerney and Young somehow failed to get a decisive touch in front of goal before Cheltenham eventually cleared their lines.
But the deficit was halved with 12 minutes to go when Djalo got his first goal for the club. It was a superb strike too, as the midfielder volleyed home from 20 yards after Bawling had cut the ball back from the right.
Wright and Tajbakhsh were booked before Cheltenham were denied by the woodwork for a second time when Wright’s left-foot shot hit the post.
Djalo became the third Reds player to be booked and despite winning two corners in stoppage time the visitors couldn’t conjure up an equaliser.