Skipper Filipe Morais scored his second goal of the season but Reds went down to defeat at the Jobserve Community Stadium against a lively Colchester side.
Sammie Szmodics and Frank Nouble struck in either half after Morais levelled from the spot just before the break when Luke Gambin was fouled just inside the box.
Reds had some good chances with Ollie Palmer and Joe Maguire going desperately close to finding a second equaliser while at the other end Glenn Morris made some fine saves on his 100th appearance for the club. The visitors threw the kitchen sink at Colchester in the closing stages but Luke Norris made it 3-1 in the last minute as the hosts hit Reds hard on the counter attack and defender Bondz N'Gala was sent off in stoppage time for kicking Nouble off the ball.
It was a decent performance by Crawley but Colchester had the edge where it mattered most.
Gaby Cioffi had made one change to the side which beat Cambridge in our last League game with George Francomb replacing Mark Randall. The hosts included two ex-Reds loanees – goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin and defender Tom Eastman.
Reds had a good chance in the third minute when Bondz N’Gala met Lewis Young’s cross but couldn’t keep his powerful header on target.
But the big defender was soon having to perform his main role in the side as Colchester got on top and Glenn Morris, celebrating his 100th Crawley appearance, produced a handful of excellent saves.
Young’s brother in law Norris was twice denied by the keeper, who also blocked efforts from Eastman and the impressive Harry Pell as the hosts harnessed a strong breeze behind them to pin Reds back.
The pressure paid off in the 27th minute. Courtney Senior got past Young and his cross from the by-line was cushioned into the path of Szmodics by Norris and the midfielder side-footed powerfully past Morris, who for once had no chance.
But Reds could have levelled within two minutes. Young’s cross found Palmer this time and the big striker’s header was parried by Gilmartin before Dominic Poleon failed to keep his overhead kick on target from the loose ball.
Colchester had another good spell before Reds got back into the game in the 43rd minute. Gambin was brought down by Luke Prosser’s outstretched leg as he cut across the edge of the box and after consulting with his assistant referee Kettle awarded a penalty which Morais side-footed into the bottom corner as Gilmartin dived the other way.
Morais was denied by a superbly-timed last-ditch tackle by Pell in the 53rd minute when he looked to get on the end of Palmer’s excellent flick-on but four minutes later the hosts counter-attacked superbly to regain the lead. A sweeping move ended with Norris laying the ball into the path of Nouble on the left and his side-footer flew into the top right-hand corner to make it 2-1.
On chances created the goal was probably deserved but Reds reacted positively to the setback to carve out two chances in four minutes. Poleon’s powerful drive on the turn from 16 yards was held by Gilmartin but the keeper was relieved when Joe Maguire guided a header back across goal which brushed the outside of the right-hand post.
Reds had another great chance in the 74th minute when Palmer met a cross from sub Panutche Camara with a powerful header which beat Gilmartin but was headed off the line by Prosser. The loose ball dropped to Josh Payne 25 yards out and his half-volley flashed just wide of the left-hand post.
Colchester seemed content to sit in and counter-attack in the closing stages and they nearly put the game to bed in the 81st minute when Norris set up Szmodics whose volley was pushed away by Morris at full stretch. The striker then shot wide with only Morris to beat after another Colchester break.
Cioffi threw on Joe McNerney up front for the closing stages but despite mounting pressure Reds couldn’t find a way through and Colchester made the game safe in the 90th minute. George Francomb’s pass was cut out and Norris took advantage to drill a low shot past Morris for his eighth goal of the season.
To complete a disappointing afternoon for Reds, N'Gala kicked Nouble in the back of the leg when the ball had gone out of play with seconds remaining and referee Kettle showed the big defender a straight red.
Reds: Morris; Young, Connolly, N’Gala, Maguire; Poleon (Allarakhia 77), Francomb, Payne (McNerney 83), Morais, Gambin (Camara 64); Palmer. Unused subs: Mersin, Vincelot, Bulman.
Booked: Morais, Connolly
Attendance: 3208 (212 Crawley)
Pictured: Reds celebrate after Filipe Morais levelled from the spot just before half time