Reds suffered their second successive away defeat in Sky Bet League 2 after going down 3-1 to Notts County at Meadow Lane.
First-half goals from Kane Hemmings and Jon Stead put the hosts in control and even after they lost ex-Red Rob Milsom to a straight red card midway through the second half they added a third late on through Nathan Thomas’s 87th-minute free kick.
Dominic Poleon got one back in stoppage time with his first goal for Crawley and Reds had 22 shots at goal but couldn’t find a way through on a frustrating night in front of the sticks.
Gabriele Cioffi made three changes to the team that beat Yeovil on Saturday. Bondz N’Gala and Joe Maguire dropped to the bench to rest minor injuries while Ashley Nathaniel-George was left out because of a slight calf niggle. In came Joe McNerney, Josh Doherty and Dominic Poleon, who operated on the right of a five-man midfield.
The hosts included ex-Reds Enzio Boldewijn, Cedric Evina and Milsom as well as Jamie Turley, who had a brief spell on trial in pre-season.
Reds had a great chance to score after just nine minutes when top scorer Ollie Palmer exchanged passes with Luke Gambin only to fire straight at keeper Ross Fitzsimons. It was an omen of things to come and proved a costly miss as County took the lead a minute later. A mix-up between Glenn Morris and his defenders gave Lewis Alessandra the chance to nip in and set up Hemmings for an easy finish from close range.
Reds put the setback behind them and pressed for an equaliser. Filipe Morais twice and Panutche Camara had sights at goal but neither could test Fitzsimons. At the other end Boldewijn picked out Matt Tootle at the far post with a cross which the defender headed wide.
It had been end to end stuff in the opening 30 minutes and at that stage Reds could consider themselves unlucky to be behind given the chances they had created, but they undid their good work by conceding a soft second in the 32nd minute. In fairness, Jon Stead did superbly to guide the ball in from 12 yards on the angle but Reds had squandered two chances to clear the danger from Elliott Hewitt’s header forward from inside the centre circle.
Camara had another good chance four minutes later but failed to keep his side-footer on target then another hit from Morais again flew straight into Fitzsimons’ midriff.
Two minutes before the break Reds went even closer when Payne, who scored the winner in the corresponding fixture in January, struck a right-footer from 35 yards which beat the keeper but rattled the cross bar.
A two-goal deficit at the break was harsh on Reds who'd had 12 shots at goal in the first half, but both goals should have been avoided.
Cioffi made his first change in the 54th minute, bringing on Joe Maguire for Camara. Gambin switched to central midfield with Doherty pushing forward and Maguire slotting in at left-back.
Neither side had threatened much but Notts went down to ten men in the 65th minute when Milsom was shown a straight red for a badly timed challenge on Maguire in front of the Crawley dugout.
That livened things up and Reds were soon on the front foot looking for a route back into the game, although Morris did superbly to keep out Stead’s first-time effort with a diving save to his right.
Poleon wriggled clear of Turley but couldn’t keep his shot on target then moments after coming on for his League debut substitute Tarryn Allarakhia tested Fitzsimons with a swerving shot after cutting in from the left-hand side.
Crawley threw everything at their hosts in the closing stages but every shot at goal seemed to be straight at Fitzsimons, whose handling was exemplary. Even when he might have been beaten in the 83rd minute by Morais a deflection took it agonisingly wide of the upright.
To rub salt into their wounds, substitute Thomas made it 3-0 in the 87th minute when he bent a superb free kick from 25 yards inside the right-hand post with Morris beaten.
The visitors did get a consolation late on when Poleon scored his first goal for the club from Gambin’s low cross.
Crawley must now regroup ahead of Saturday’s home game against Cambridge United.
Reds: Morris; Young, McNerney, Vincelot, Doherty (Allarakhia 72); Poleon, Payne (Randall 83), Morais, Camara (Maguire 54), Gambin; Palmer. Unused subs: Mersin, Bulman, N'Gala
Picture: Dominic Poleon (left) scores his first Reds' goal in stoppage time. Photo by James Boardman