Reds lost 3-0 to Championship side Brighton in Wednesday night’s friendly in front of a 2,200 crowd at the Checkatrade.com Stadium.
First-half goals from Dale Stephens, Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal put the Seagulls in control.
Crawley did a lot better in the second half and missed the chance to get a goal back when Simon Walton’s penalty was saved by David Stockdale.
Most of the positives from Reds’ performance will have been taken from the second half display, in which the home defence remained solid and the forwards combined well after a disappointing first period.
The travelling fans were in full voice before kick off, with 933 Seagulls making the short trip up the M23. Their side started the game as they would have liked, releasing Kazenga Lua Lua and Solly March down the wings to attack Reds’ makeshift full-backs Lewis Young and Conor Henderson at every opportunity.
However, it was the home side had the first opportunity of the game. Luke Rooney’s clearance, following a few minutes of Brighton pressure, found Shamir Fenelon through on goal just inside the Crawley half, but the ex-Brighton forward couldn’t find a finishing touch as his effort rolled wide.
There were shouts for a Reds penalty on 13 minutes when Bruno Salter appeared to control Jimmy Smith’s cross with his arm but the referee waved play on.
Down at the other end the away team broke the deadlock on 16 minutes. Dale Stephens’ acrobatic right-footed volley from a right-sided cross left Callum Preston motionless as it flew into his left-hand corner.
Stephens should have doubled Brighton’s advantage shortly after his opener. Another great Albion move down the right found Salter, whose controlled pass took him into Reds area where he found the ex-Charlton midfielder, but his effort flew high into the KR-L stand.
The visitors did punish Mark Yates’ team minutes later. Lua Lua’s low driven free kick was parried by Preston straight into the Path of Tomer Hemed, who poked home from close range making it 2-0 midway through the first half.
It was 3-0 on 27 minutes. A long clearance from Lewis Young found the lively Lua Lua, who drove down the right past Luke Rooney and cut the ball back to Beram Kayal. The Israeli international coolly side-footed the ball past Preston.
Chris Houghton would have been pleased with his side’s first half attacking display. The wide men, including substitute Inigo Calderon, were linking up with the strikers and making runs to create pockets of space behind the home defence.
If Crawley were going to create any chances on goal, Rooney looked the most likely to provide them in a red shirt. The playmaker was picking up loose balls and driving forward from deep in his own half, but often lacked attacking options in front of him.
It was nearly four as the halftime whistle blew when Hemed’s long-range effort was tipped over by Preston, making his third impressive save in as many minutes.
Reds had a chance to pull one back moments into the second half. Simon Walton picked out a perfectly weighted through ball to an on running Jimmy Smith, who went down under keeper David Stockdale’s challenge. The Crawley skipper took the resulting spot kick, but was denied by the keeper’s strong hand as he saved down to his left.
Even after the penalty miss Yates’ men refused to be deflated and instead played their most promising football of the match in the final third.
There was the first feel of local derby tension on 60 minutes with Walton and Inigo Calderon clashing on the halfway line, but the referee stepped in cooled the situation without issuing any cards.
Yates made his first changes with 25 minutes left, bringing on last year’s top goal scorer Izale McLeod, Bobson Bawling, Sonny Bradley and trialists Lee Barnard and Issac Nehemie among a raft of changes.
McLeod was nearly off the mark within seconds of being introduced. The forward picked up the ball on the right side of the opposition half and cut inside, unleashing a 30-yarder that went centimetres over the Brighton goal.
Reds: Preston (GK), Walton, McNerney, Edwards, Smith, Rooney, Henderson, Young, Fenelon, Ashton, Harrold.
Subs: Bradley (Henderson 66), McLeod (Harrold 66), Aaron Lennox (GK, Preston 80), Bawling (Young 66), Isaac