Reds made a disappointing start to the new League 2 campaign after they were edged out at Brunton Park.
Goals from Harry McKirdy and Stefan Scougall came either side of a debut strike by Bez Lubala for the visitors during the first half.
Reds created some good chances and a corner count of 11-2 in their favour reflected the part they played in a lively encounter, but although Adam Collin was the busier keeper the impression was that Reds didn’t make enough of some very promising situations.
And to complete a disappointing afternoon, Lewis Young was shown a straight red card for violent conduct deep into stoppage time.
Reds were captained by Dannie Bulman who was making his 400th appearance on the day of an equally important milestone for the veteran midfielder – the launch of the ‘Bit of Bully’ podcast. Jordan Tunnicliffe, Lubala and Nathan Ferguson all made their debuts for the club but Joe McNerney (back) and George Francomb, whose wife is about to give birth, were not involved. Young operated at left back with David Sesay on the right.
The visitors should have led after five minutes. Ferguson’s drive from distance was blocked and fell nicely to Panutche Camara eight yards out, but with only keeper Adam Collin to beat the midfielder failed to hit the target. It was a costly miss. Carlisle attacked down their right, Nathan Thomas cut inside and Glenn Morris could only push his shot as far as McKirdy, whose looping header dropped inside the far post. 1-0.
Crawley responded positively and deservedly levelled on 18 minutes. Lubala was played in by Camara and showed great strength to get past Christie Elliott before beating Collin from a tight angle on the left. 1-1.
The visitors enjoyed a good spell but the final ball let them down when they got into some good positions. Carlisle were less profligate and went back in front again on 34 minutes after more joy down their right. Thomas cut inside again and Morris could only palm his shot out to Scougall who scooped it in off the underside of the bar. 2-1.
Reds nearly conceded again four minutes before the break. Thomas, again, got too much space down the right and his curling effort flew past Morris but fortunately for Crawley kissed the outside of the far post.
Bulman was replaced by Reece Grego-Cox at the break with Young taking the captain’s armband. Filipe Morais moved into a more central midfield role.
McKirdy nearly got his second on 54 minutes when his shot ricocheted inside the six-yard box and eventually rolled just wide of the post, but Reds were still very much in the game and on the hour, after more good work by Lubala, Morais let fly from 15 yards but his effort hit the side-netting.
The visitors went even closer in their next attack. Collin pulled off a great save to push out Camara’s shot and did even better to react and block Ollie Palmer’s effort to turn in the loose ball. Palmer was immediately replaced by Mason Bloomfield. With 20 minutes to go Lubala made way for Ashley Nathaniel-George.
With 18 minutes to go Reds had an almighty let-off. Scougall’s shot took a deflection off Tom Dallison and seemed to be going in with Morris beaten. But the keeper somehow managed to scramble back to push the ball off the line and neither Scougall nor Jon Mellish could turn the loose ball into the net.
In the warm conditions it was no surprise that both sides began to tire and play got increasingly stretched. Ferguson failed to keep a header from Grego-Cox’s cross on target and in the closing stages it was all Crawley. Collin made a great save to push away Nathaniel-George’s effort from the left but the Carlisle keeper and the men in front of him held firm.
And deep into stoppage time Reds' frustration was complete when Young was shown a straight red by the referee after an incident on the touchline.
Reds: Morris; Young, Tunnicliffe, Dallison, Sesay; Ferguson, Bulman (Grego-Cox 45); Lubala (Nathaniel-George 70), Morais, Camara; Palmer (Bloomfield 64). Subs: Luyambula, Doherty, Payne, Galach. Booked: Camara
Attendance: 4833 (81 Crawley)