Reds produced a performance full of determination to thwart Exeter’s bid to climb into the top three in the St James’ Park sunshine.
They ended up with a point from a 2-2 draw but could argue it might have been three had it not been for Exeter striker Jayden Stockley.
The striker’s double took his tally for the season to 24 and he also hit the bar and was twice thwarted by saves from the impressive Glenn Morris.
But Reds refused to play the part of also-rans. Enzio Boldewijn’s neat finish gave them the lead and Josh Yorwerth levelled midway through the second half with his first goal of the season.
Harry Kewell had made three changes to the side beaten by Coventry. Moussa Sanoh got his first start for three months after Karlan Ahearne-Grant (thigh) pulled out and there were recalls for Mark Randall and Panutche Camara with Josh Payne and Jimmy Smith dropping to the bench. Glenn Morris wore the captain’s armband.
It was no surprise that the hosts, looking for a win to keep the pressure on Wycombe for automatic promotion, started strongly and Morris was alert twice in the first ten minutes to block shots from ex-Reds’ loanee Jake Taylor.
But Exeter’s bright start fizzled out and the visitors began to probe for an opening although long-range efforts by Boldewijn and Lewis Young failed to test Christy Pym in the opening 27 minutes.
Things changed on the half-hour. Dannie Bulman spotted Young’s run down the right and picked him out with a great diagonal ball. Young found Boldewijn inside the six-yard box and he fired through Pym’s legs. The Dutchman reached ten goals for the season with that strike.
The goal rocked Exeter and Thomas Verheydt wasn’t far away from a second goal but headed into the side netting after Randall’s diagonal had picked him out at the far post.
But just when Reds were thinking of getting to the break ahead Exeter levelled in the 42nd minute. Morris made a good initial save from Lloyd James’ shot but Stockley reacted quickest to stab the loose ball goalwards and although Morris clawed it out the assistant ruled it had crossed the line despite complaints from the Crawley players.
Sanoh got more into the game towards the end of the first half and just before the break his pass found Randall whose effort from the left-hand edge of the box wasn’t far away.
Exeter went in front in the 57th minute and it was no surprise that Stockley got it. Jordan Tillson’s corner was flicked on and Stockley made no mistake from eight yards.
With Wycombe losing to Accrington, the home fans packed in behind the goal sensed their side were heading into the top three but Reds weren’t finished. Randall fired just wide and the visitors won a flurry of corners with Jordan Roberts seeing his first touch after coming on deflected wide for a corner.
Reds sensed an opening and they levelled in the 68th minute. Roberts’ corner picked out Yorwerth and he headed past Pym at the same end where his goal won three points last season.
Both sides went for it in the closing stages and Stockley nearly won it on two occasions. In the 77th minute Boateng’s cross fell at his feet and his shot beat Morris but bounced back off the underside of the bar.
Then with two minutes to go the Crawley defenders were high-fiving their captain again after he pulled off another superb save to deny Stockley after he burst through the middle.
Four minutes of stoppage time failed to find a winner but nonetheless it was an excellent point for Crawley.
Reds: Morris; Young, Connolly, Yorwerth, Tajbakhsh; Boldewijn, Bulman, Randall (Smith 78), Sanoh (Doherty 60); Camara (Roberts 60); Verheydt.
Picture: Josh Yorwerth celebrates his second-half equaliser. Photo by James Boardman