Reds produced a stirring second-half fightback but still left the Matchroom Stadium without reward as Orient edged a Boxing Day thriller by the odd goal in five.
The visitors paid for a poor start which saw them concede twice in the first 11 minutes to Sam Dalby and Paul McCullum and when McCullum converted a penalty in first-half stoppage time to make it 3-0 it looked like game over.
Dermot Drummy shook things up at the break. Joe McNerney came on in a 3-5-2 formation with Enzio Boldewijn joining James Collins up front. The Dutchman pressurised Teddy Mezague into slicing the ball past his own goalkeeper to make it 3-1 on 57 minutes before Boldewijn got his second with 13 minutes to go.
Reds threw bodies forward in search of an equaliser but Orient hung on to record only their third home League win of the season.
Crawley were unchanged for the third successive match and before the game there was a nice reception for former Orient player Dean Cox, who travelled with the squad to East London a week before he is available for selection three months after joining Reds from the O’s.
Reds have won six of the eight League meetings between the clubs but their recent record at Orient – two successive defeats – is not great and within 11 minutes of the start the visiting fans must have sensed a third reverse in the capital was on the cards.
The hosts went in front after four minutes. Andre Blackman wastefully gave the ball away to one-time Crawley target Nigel Atangana and the midfielder’s pass put Massey away down the right and his measured cross by swept home by Dalby, the youngster who only turned 17 ten days ago.
McCallum headed an inviting cross from Massey wide before Orient doubled their lead. A quickly taken free-kick conceded by Josh Payne found Massey and his cross was headed powerfully past the helpless Glenn Morris by McCallum.
Reds were all over the place in the first 20 minutes with Orient threatening every time they attacked down the right. The visitors eventually began to enjoy some spells of possession but their only effort of the half on target came when Jordan Roberts’ pass was met first time by James Collins, whose shot was hit straight at O’s keeper Alex Cisak.
At 2-0 the visitors would have felt going into the second half that they were still in it but they conceded a third goal in stoppage time. Roberts looked to have won the ball cleanly as he challenged Massey but referee Trevor Kettle thought otherwise, pointing to the penalty spot. McCallum rolled the ball into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 and Reds were staring at another Yeovil-type scenario at the break.
Instead they produced a spirited response and seven minutes into the second half got one back. Collins’ astute pass allowed Lewis Young to attack the space and his cross was turned in by Orient defender Teddy Mezague under pressure from Boldewijn.
It gave Reds hope but McCallum should have extinguished it five minutes later when he got an uncontested header on Massey’s cross but directed it wide of the right-hand post. The O’s then had another penalty claim turned down when Massey went down under a challenge from McNerney.
It was end to end stuff now. Boldewijn nearly got in on 65 minutes but his shot was blocked by Tom Parkes then Collins spotted Cisak off his line 45 yards out but his ambitious effort drifted over the Orient bar. At the other end, Massey had space to attack the visitors defence but opted to shoot early and his effort flew wide of the post. Smith then got on the end of Mark Connolly’s cross from deep but his header lacked power and direction to trouble Cisak.
With 13 minutes to go Reds made it 3-2. A long ball down the centre found Cisak in two minds and as he came out of goal to clear Boldewijn nipped in and rounded the keeper before firing in on the angle with his left foot for his fourth goal of the season.
Game on and in the closing stages Reds went desperately close to grabbing an equaliser. Substitute Bobson Bawling couldn’t believe his misfortune when his close-range shot was blocked then Cisak tipped Josh Payne’s free kick over at full stretch. Referee Kettle played seven additional minutes and Connolly had the best chance of an equaliser but he blasted a shot from 20 yards wide.
Reds: Morris, Young, Connolly, Yorwerth, Blackman (sub: McNerney 45), Boldewijn, Smith, Payne, Clifford, Roberts (Bawling 74), Collins. Unused subs: Mersin, Tajbakhsh, Djalo, Watt, Henderson.
Booked: Young, Connolly, Roberts, Yorwerth, Collins.
Attendance: 4486 (295 Crawley)