Reds slipped to their sixth defeat in the last seven League 2 games despite two Dominic Poleon goals against Carlisle at The People's Pension Stadium on Saturday.
The striker netted a brace for the first time since November 2016 either side of goals from Jerry Yates and Hallam Hope in a lively first half.
Jack Sowerby put Carlisle back in front ten minutes into the second half and there was no way back for Reds, although they had two penalty appeals for handball controversially turned down and substitute Reece Grego-Cox wasted a great chance to level late on.
Ashley Nathaniel-George replaced Grego-Cox in the only change made by Head Coach Gabriele Cioffi, who was still without the suspended Ollie Palmer (second game of five), Lewis Young, Filipe Morais and Jimmy Smith.
Poleon’s two previous goals for Reds have both been away but he needed just eight minutes to change that. Dannie Bulman’s pass between Carlisle’s central defenders was perfectly weighted and the striker outpaced Tom Parkes before beating Adam Collin with a left-foot shot in off the far post.
Luke Gambin and Nathaniel-George tested Collin as Reds dominated for a spell but Carlisle levelled in fortuitous fashion on 14 minutes. Hope’s shot from the edge of the box took a deflection and fell nicely for Ashley Nadesan. Glenn Morris parried his volley into the path of Yates who nodded home, as the hosts appealed for offside.
Nadesan found the side netting a minute later after Carlisle again beat the offside trap and Morris made a superb save to deny Yates as the visitors seemed to find an extra gear.
They went in front on 39 minutes when Reds conceded from the penalty spot for the second successive home game. Hope was fouled off the ball by George Francomb and the No.9 smashed the spot kick down the middle.
Poleon, however, took just two minutes to find an equaliser. Josh Payne’s ball released Luke Gambin and when Parkes made a hash of his clearance Poleon turned and smashed the ball right-footed into the top corner to make it 2-2. Reds finished the half on top and space opened up for Panutche Camara but he sliced his effort badly wide.
Poleon was presented with a great chance two minutes into the second half but Anthony Gerrard, having given the ball away on the edge of the box, made a great recovery tackle as the striker was about to shoot.
Carlisle were back in front on 55 minutes with a well-taken goal by Sowerby. Jamie Devitt’s ball from the right found him making an unchecked run to the edge of the box and his right-foot side-footed effort beat Morris off the inside of the left-hand post.
The Reds’ keeper made a superb save seven minutes later, turning Devitt’s free kick over the bar after McNerney’s foul on Hallam had earned the defender a booking before plunging to his left to keep out another well-struck effort by Devitt, as Carlisle threatened to score the fourth that would put the game to bed.
Home fans were convinced Parkes had used his left hand to clear when Poleon tried to find a way through but with a third of the game remaining Reds were struggling to find a second leveller. There was another penalty appeal, again against Parkes, when sub Reece Grego-Cox stretched to meet Nathaniel-George’s cross and the ball struck the defender on the ground, but again referee Kinsley said no.
Parkes then made a great clearance off his own line after Colin spilled Payne’s 35-yard free kick but Reds had a great chance to equalised in the 89th minute but Grego-Cox could only side-foot the ball straight at Colin from six yards after Payne’s lofted ball picked him out.
A frustrating afternoon. There was no lack of effort from Crawley but not much is going their way at either end of the pitch at the moment.
Reds: Morris; Francomb, N’Gala, McNerney, Maguire; Nathaniel-George (Grego-Cox 78), Camara, Payne, Bulman, Gambin; Poleon. Subs not used: Mersin, Doherty, Connolly, Sesay, Allarakhia
Picture: Dominic Poleon celebrates the first of his two first-half goals. Photo: James Boardman