THE Crawley hoodoo over United remains intact after a powerful display guided the visitors to a deserved 3-1 victory at Plainmoor.
The Gulls dreamed of revenge for the painful FA Cup loss back in January but a fantastic first-half display by the Reds crushed Yellow dreams. Scott Davies opened the scoring with a thunderbolt on four minutes but the killer blow was a header by defender Charlie Wassmer on the stroke of half-time.
United emerged from the interval full of renewed hope, which was swiftly quashed by Josh Simpson nodding in a third goal. Lee Mansell lifted the gloom by pulling one back on 52 minutes but the men in Yellow were unable to find their normal fluency in attacking areas.
United manager Martin Ling made one change to the side that battled to an 'ugly' 1-0 win at Aldershot on Tuesday night, withdrawing the wing craft of Danny Stevens for the more physical option of Chris McPhee.
On the bench, goalkeeper Martin Rice and Lloyd Macklin dropped out of the squad to make space for Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Damon Lathrope.
Crawley boss Steve Evans selected two new faces from the 3-0 midweek trouncing of Southend United. Davies came in for Scott Neilson and Wes Thomas was preferred up front to Matt Tubbs, who, given his brace against the Shrimpers, was presumably not fully fit.
The away bench contained John Dempster and Michael Doughty, signed on loan from QPR in the week. The shuffling dropped Ben Smith, Glenn Wilson and John Akinde out of the squad.
Crawley took just four minutes to break the deadlock, and they did so with a stunner. The initial free-kick from Dean Howell was charged down by the United wall after McPhee had tripped Simpson on the edge of the area.
The rebound fell to Davies, who took a touch on his chest before lashing a sensational left-foot half-volley into the top corner. It was a brilliant goal, no argument.
The visitors continued to pile forward after the goal and the physical prowess of Tyrone Barnett was a constant thorn to the United defence in the early stages.
Argentine midfielder Sergio Torres was next to test the somewhat beleaguered Bobby Olejnik in the United goal, thundering a low drive through a crowd, and the Austrian custodian did well to snaffle the effort. Torres tried more of the same a minute later but was thwarted by a brave block from Joe Oastler.
The red siege showed no sign of relenting and a terrific whipped free-kick by Davies found the glancing head of Kyle McFadzean, forcing Olejnik into a magnificent fingertip save on to the bar to keep the deficit at a manageable one goal.
When the men in Yellow briefly broke the shackles to earn a corner, it was instantly cleared to Thomas, who fed Hope Akpan for a lightening break, and United were grateful to the covering challenge from Mansell, which forced the final shot to be hurried well over the bar.
United gradually asserted a semblance of control to limit the Crawley threat but the next problem was a lack of incision and penetration at the other end, leaving the Reds' defence to enjoy a frustratingly relaxing first half.
Rene Howe was given a glimpse of the goal from a Taiwo Atieno flick-on but Wassmer showed superb pace to recover the situation, and goalkeeper Scott Shearer displayed dancing feet to complete the clearance.
Crawley's second goal arrived in the simplest fashion. A floated corner from Davies picked out the blond locks of Wassmer at the near post, and he steered a neat header into the ground and beyond the beaten Olejnik.
Ling's response to a bruising first 45 minutes was the removal of Ian Morris and Chris McPhee for Billy Kee and Damon Lathrope, but neither of the new men had touched the ball before Simpson sealed the Yellow fate.
Left-back Dean Howell delivered a routine cross from the wing and captain Simpson stooped at the near post to guide a well-placed header into the bottom corner.
Game over? Apparently not.
Home hope was restored by a bizarre goal as Kee battered his way into the box and the ball fell to Howe, who could not get the ball out off his feet to unleash the fatal blow.
Wassmer launched himself into a clearance but could only smack the body of Mansell, and the ball ricocheted back into the net for the skipper's fourth, and luckiest, of a prolific season.
Plainmoor was suddenly bouncing and Crawley were forced to contend with a sustained period of pressure for the first time in the match, although the counter-threat remained ominous, as a swift break by Thomas ended with another fine block by Olejnik.
Temperatures inside TQ1 were gradually rising and a robust challenge from Eunan O'Kane on the excellent Barnett prompted the momentary unloading of handbags, both on the pitch and on the sidelines.
United's chances for the next stage in the recovery remained limited. The build-up play was tidy but Crawley's defensive strength was matching their attacking prowess.
A genuine opening finally arose after another session of pinball resulted in Atieno picking up the ball in the left channel, and the Kenyan weaved his way into space but dragged his final shot into the side-netting at the near-post.
Stevens came on for Oastler in a final 12 minutes that continued to ebb away from United and the harsh reality of the closing stages was the next goal looked more like coming from a Red boot than a Yellow one.
It was an afternoon to take it on the chin and accept that the better side won on the day.
Gulls (4-4-2): 1 Bobby Olejnik; 18 Joe Oastler (19 Danny Stevens 78), 6 Brian Saah, 5 Chris Robertson, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 16 Chris McPhee (8 Billy Kee H-T), 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 10 Eunan O'Kane, 11 Ian Morris (22 Damon Lathrope H-T); 9 Rene Howe, 23 Taiwo Atieno. Substitutes (not used): 2 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, 4 Mark Ellis.
Booked: Howe 45, Robertson 61, O'Kane 70, Mansell 90
Crawley (4-4-2): 25 Scott Shearer; 13 David Hunt, 5 Kyle McFadzean, 20 Charlie Wassmer, 3 Dean Howell; 2 Scott Davies, 8 Sergio Torres, 11 Josh Simpson (capt), 6 Hope Akpan (21 Michael Doughty 79); 10 Wesley Thomas (22 Scott Neilson 87), 23 Tyrone Barnett (18 John Dempster 90). Substitutes (not used): 1 Michel Kuipers (GK), 9 Matthew Tubbs.
Booked: McFadzean 44, Thomas 59, Davies 66
Referee: James Adcock.
Attendance: 2,658 (202 away).