A first-half Max Watters strike was cancelled out by two late Exeter goals which see the Reds travel back to West Sussex empty handed.
The Grecians almost found themselves ahead after just two minutes. Jack Sparkes brought down a lofted Reds clearance before bringing the ball forward in his stride and unleashing an effort from 25 yards that crashed off of the Reds crossbar.
Just minutes later the Reds also hit the woodwork through Tyler Frost. Tom Nichols was able to feed through Frost who had space over on the left flank, a cross-cum-shot looped over Lewis Ward who despite being 6”5 was bell beaten, but to his delight, the ball bounced off of the bar and out for a goal kick.
The Reds continued to pile on the early pressure as Watters almost found the net for the fourth time in three games. He was fed through neatly again by Nichols but his shot lacked power and Ward dealt with the effort with relative ease.
Ward was again called into action following a Reds corner, Nichols found himself unmarked at the back post as he had time to take a touch and fire at goal but Ward got across the six-yard box just in time to smother Nichols’ effort. Ward was then forced to make another smart save from Max Watters. The Reds striker fired back across goal to the opposite corner but Ward again got down quickly to avert the danger. Continued Reds pressure resulted in a case of deja vu, Watters again forcing Ward into a save this time to the Exeter goalkeeper’s near post.
The Reds were relentless and despite a period of fairly eventless play at St James Park, the Reds took the lead five minutes before the break. Jordan Tunnicliffe thumped a clearance from the edge of the Reds penalty area deep into the opposition half, and Watters did brilliantly to shrug off an Exeter defender before firing at goal, despite Ward getting a firm touch. The ball continued its path into the Exeter net to give the Reds a deserved lead going into the interval.
The Reds continued their opening half pressure in the early stages of the second half. Sam Matthews did well to beat his man on the right wing before delivering a ball to the near post which Watters reacted to first, but he could not direct his shot goal-bound. The Grecians looked to be working their way back into the fixture, as Randell Williams had a free kick in a very dangerous position. A yard out of the Reds penalty area, wide and to the right, Williams fired a left footed effort at goal but Tunnicliffe was wary and came across to block.
This seemed to liven up the Reds who continued to look dangerous on the counter attack. Francomb and debutant Jake Hesketh, who was introduced early in the second-half, linked up brilliantly to set up Francomb who was one-on-one with Ward, Francomb perhaps should have shot but instead attempted to fire back across the face of goal, but the cross was blocked for a corner.
The Grecians continued to work their way back into the fixture and they got their equaliser with just over ten minutes to play. Jake Caprice floated a cross into the Reds penalty area which was only half cleared, the ball fell to the feet of Jake Taylor who thrashed the ball past Glenn Morris to equalise for the hosts.
The hosts continued to put pressure on the Reds and with five minutes remaining in the fixture took the lead. Tarryn Allarakhia played the ball back to Glenn Morris who’s first touch invited Ryan Bowman to put pressure on the Reds keeper. Morris attempted to clear but the ball cannoned off of Bowman's outstretched leg and bounced into an empty net.
The Reds were not yet defeated and had a brilliant chance to equalise in the 88th minute. Tom Nichols did excellently to get to the byline and fire across goal where Matthews was waiting, but a courageous challenge from Joel Randall saved the hosts from a certain equaliser.
Crawley Town: Morris, Doherty, Craig, Tunnicliffe, Francomb (C), Matthews, Hessenthaler (Ferguson 61’), Frost (Allarakhia 76’), Powell, Nichols, Watters (Hesketh 55’)