John Gregory suffered his first defeat as Crawley manager as MK Dons gave ten-man Reds the Boxing Day blues at The Checkatrade.com Stadium.
Crawley controlled plenty of the game and created some excellent chances, but the visitors were more clinical as goals from Stephen Gleeson and Patrick Bamford proved decisive while Reds also lost three key players.
Nicky Adams and Dannie Bulman both picked up injuries in the first half, Bulman going off with a suspected fractured cheekbone on his 300th appearance for the club. Then with five minutes to go Billy Clarke was shown a straight red for a challenge on Lee Hodson.
The boss made one change to the side which toppled leaders Leyton Orient last Saturday with James Hurst replacing Kyle McFadzean, who was serving a one-match ban for accumulating five bookings. Josh Simpson (hamstring) was still sidelined while MK Dons were unchanged.
Reds made a brisk start and could have been in front early on. Adams latched onto Clarke’s flick to drill an angled shot wide after three minutes then Alexander couldn’t adjust his position to get enough power on his header to test David Martin following an excellent free kick by Hurst.
Adams was clattered by Dean Lewington moments later, a foul that earned the Dons’ defender a yellow card, and Adams went off clutching his lower back and was replaced by Jamie Proctor, with Clarke moving onto the left of midfield.
Dons threatened for the first time on 20 minutes when Bamford shot wide and two minutes later they were in front. Reds only cleared a corner as far as Gleeson 25 yards out and he struck a superb half volley into the bottom corner.
Bamford and Ben Reeves tested Paul Jones from distance as the visitors grew in confidence and Reds suffered another blow five minutes before the break when Bulman collided with Jordan Spence and went off with a suspected fractured cheekbone.
Sergio Torres replaced him and nearly made an instant impact when he got on the end of Clarke’s pass but, off balance, couldn’t keep his shot on target.
Reds should have levelled seven minutes after the break. Mat Sadler’s cross was missed by Proctor, but Alexander came in at the far post only to stab his shot wide.
It proved an expensive miss. On 58 minutes Hurst lost possession to Dale Jennings and his pass was played perfectly into the path of Bamford who raced through and finished with aplomb for his 15th goal of the season.
It was a hammer blow to the home side although they kept plugging away. Torres clipped the top of the post with a shot from just inside the box and Joe Walsh’s header was cleared off the line by substitute George Baldock.
Proctor was then presented with a glorious chance on 79 minutes when he was played clean through but he hesitated as David Martin came out and the keeper was able to make a smothering save.
And a miserable afternoon for Reds ended on a sour note when Clarke was shown a straight red for a foul on Hodson five minutes from time which means he will miss the next three games.