An undistinguished Leasing.com Trophy campaign ended on a bad night for Reds who lost 4-1 – with three Oxford goals coming from the penalty spot – and had the returning George Francomb sent off.
Rob Hall put Oxford in front early on and completed his hat-trick with two second-half penalties, the first after Francomb had been shown a straight red. Anthony Forde had put Oxford 2-0 up at the break from the spot before Mason Bloomfield scored his third goal of the season to briefly get Crawley back into the game at the start of the second half.
Gabriele Cioffi made seven changes to the side which progressed in the FA Cup with Francomb’s return after injury the headline team news. Joe McNerney captained the side with Jamie Sendles-White employed in a holding midfield role.
Oxford took charge from the off and could have gone ahead in the sixth minute when David Sesay’s goal-line clearance denied Shannon Baptiste.
But a comedy of errors at the back on 11 minutes gifted the visitors the lead. Sesay lost possession on the touchline to Oussama Zamouri and he found Hall in the box. The midfielder fell over but managed to retain possession and fire a low shot which went through Michael Luyambula’s legs.
Luyambula redeemed himself with a good save to deny Dan Agyei, who had been given the freedom of the box, but the keeper then dropped a cross under no pressure and Tom Dallison had to clear hastily.
Oxford were getting through far too easily. Zamouri was next to find too much space but again Luyambula was equal to his shot and made a good low save.
But on 26 minutes Reds found themselves 2-0 down. Sesay failed to clear the danger down Oxford’s right, the ball was worked into Agyei and his low shot was handled by McNerney as he slid on the deck to block the shot. A little unlucky perhaps, but referee Smith was on top of the incident and although Luyambula dived the right way, Forde’s penalty had enough power to find the bottom corner.
Luyambula made two more saves before the break to deny Agyei and Hall as Oxford ended the half in command.
Cioffi made three changes at the break, bringing on Lewis Young, Jordan Tunnicliffe and Bez Lubala with Francomb moving into central midfield and Lubala and Ashley Nathaniel-George operating either side of Bloomfield.
And six minutes into the second half Reds pulled one back from their first shot on target. Oxford managed to block efforts from Denzeil Boadu and Panutche Camara but Boadu helped the ball on with keeper Jack Stevens stranded and Bloomfield’s looping header evaded the desperate attempts of John Mousinho on the line.
Luyambula came to Reds’ rescue again when he kept out Mark Sykes’ low drive but moments later Reds found themselves with a mountain to climb when they were reduced to ten men. Francomb gave the ball away to Sykes and fouled him as he tried to win the ball back inside the box. Referee Smith showed his fifth red card of the season and Hall got his second by firing the penalty down the middle of the goal.
Reds nearly got one back in the 71st minute. Lubala swung a great free kick to the far post which Dallison met with a firm header back across goal but Mousinho cleared it off the line, but three minutes later Oxford stretched their lead. Luyambula was penalised for bringing down Agyei and the visitors had their third penalty, which Hall drilled into the bottom corner to make it 4-1.
Hall was denied his fourth when Luyambula tipped his free kick over the bar. Another goal would have been harsh on Crawley, who worked hard enough but gave away some bad goals and will need to regroup on Saturday against Morecambe in the League.
Reds: Luyambula; McNerney (Tunnicliffe 45), Dallison, Sendles-White, Sesay (Young 45), Francomb, Camara, Boadu, Nathaniel-George, Nadesan (Lubala 45), Bloomfield. Unused subs: Jones, Okoye, Palmer, Galach.
Pictured: Mason Bloomfield's looping header gets Reds briefly back in the game