Reds’ Capital One Cup adventure is over after they threw away a 3-1 lead to lose to an extra time goal at League 2 Cheltenham.
Gary Alexander scored his first goal of the season midway through the first half and two goals in five minutes after the break by Nicky Adams appeared to have put Reds in control.
But Cheltenham scored twice to take the tie into extra time and Byron Harrison scored his second of the game with seven minutes remaining to book the home side’s place in the second round.
Richie Barker had named an unchanged side with new signing Luke Rooney and new Dad Billy Clarke both on a full-strength bench.
Reds threatened in the first minute when a defensive clearance was met on the full by Dannie Bulman whose drive from 30 yards was saved by the diving Scott Brown.
Mike Jones then produced an even better save from the home No.1 who pushed his shot around the post at the end of a flowing Crawley move as the visitors settled first.
Reds had a measure of control at this stage and Brown was called on again to make another save, albeit a routine one, to deny Nicky Adams from the edge of the box as Crawley continued to knock the ball around confidently.
It was no surprise when Reds broke the deadlock on 23 minutes. James Hurst did well to keep the ball in play on the right and produce a cross that ALEXANDER headed powerfully past
Brown for his first Reds’ goal since last December.
The hosts responded positively and Paul Jones tipped over a header from Terry Gornell before Adams lined up another shot which was deflected for a fruitless corner.
Five minutes later the visitors drew level. Mat Sadler brought down Byron Harrison from behind and referee Langford pointed to the penalty spot. RICHARDS, who missed a spot-kick against Reds for Shrewsbury on Easter Monday, made no mistake on this occasion as he sent Jones the wrong way.
Reds could consider themselves unfortunate to be level at the break but they nearly fell behind a minute into the second half when Kyle McFadzean’s slack pass was intercepted and Russell Penn let fly but his shot quivered the cross bar.
The Robins were certainly rocking at the start of the second half and they were not allowing Reds time on the ball they had enjoyed more much of the first period.
But on 59 minutes the visitors were back in front. Mike Jones’ cross was only partially cleared and ADAMS won the loose ball on the edge of the box before firing inside the left-hand post.
Five minutes later it was 3-1. Proctor released ADAMS in the box and he slalomed around a couple of challenges, side-stepped the keeper and rolled the ball into an empty net before celebrating in front of 117 Crawley fans.
It looked like game over but Cheltenham found a way back with 20 minutes to go. Terry GORNELL robbed McFadzean, who appealed in vain for a foul, and although Jones brilliantly saved his first shot he slid home the rebound to make it 3-2.
The visitors nearly re-established their two-goal cushion on 73 minutes when Josh Simpson caught his shot perfectly from 20 yards and Brown produced an instinctive block with his legs.
But it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to go. Cheltenham won a slightly fortuitous corner when Joe Walsh appeared to be fouled but they made the most of it as HARRISON rose to plant a free header from close range past a helpless Jones.
In a game of several momentum shifts Cheltenham were now on the front foot and Harrison ought to have put them in front with seven minutes to go but headed over from close range from an inviting cross by Penn.
Reds nearly won it in normal time when Brown made another superb save to deny Simpson after a driving run and cross by Adams but extra time it was.
Reds threatened again in the supplementary period when Adams nearly surprised Brown, who beat out his shot at the near post. By then Rooney had come on for his debut in place of James Hurst. Rooney was soon involved, teeing up Billy Clarke for a drive which whistled just over the bar.
Brown made another save in the 110th minute when he stretched to finger-tip over Andy Drury’s pile driver before Jones plunged to his right to hold a low drive by Harrison.
Reds looked the side most likely to win at that stage but with seven minutes to go HARRISON ghosted in from the left and curled a low shot inside the far post with Jones helpless.