A battling Crawley Town performance was not enough as they were cruelly beaten 3-1 by Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Goals from Cameron Jerome and a Josh Murphy brace gave Norwich a safe passage into the third round of the Capital One Cup as Reds bowed out of the competition despite pulling the score back to 2-1 thanks to Carlos Cuellar’s own goal.
Crawley were unchanged from the defeat to Sheffield United three days prior and a big plus for John Gregory was the return to fitness of Matt Harrold who was on the bench following a niggling injury.
Reds began well and after only three minutes, Gwion Edwards’ stinging drive was saved down low by Declan Rudd.
At the other end Jacob Murphy saw his drive tipped away by Brian Jensen.
After 14 minutes Norwich had the breakthrough with new signing Cameron Jerome tapping home following Jensen’s spill.
Norwich were looking to grab a quick-fire second goal soon after and had two efforts from Jacob Murphy fly over Jensen’s bar as Reds looked to stop the Canaries getting on top early on in the contest.
Reds responded well and after the half hour mark had a few decent attempts from Young and then Dickson in particular having strikes that tested Norwich ‘keeper Declan Rudd – who played twice against Crawley for Preston last season.
After 35 minutes, McLeod had a great chance to get Crawley level as he beat the offside trap but his powerful volley was stopped at the near post by Rudd.
It was end-to-end with ten minutes of the first half remaining and McLeod – who caused Norwich problems throughout the game – went close for Crawley, while up the other end, Josh Murphy had two strikes whistle inches past Jensen’s post.
After the break, it was a case of the same old story as for the third consecutive game, Reds conceded in the 48th minute, with the impressive Josh Murphy cutting in from the left to smash the ball past Jensen and into the back of the net.
However Reds responded excellently and good work down the left side resulted in Henderson’s delightful whipped cross sliced by debutant Carlos Cuellar, over Rudd and into the back of the net just seven minutes after Norwich’s second goal.
The momentum appeared to change in Reds’ favour as Crawley committed more midfielders forward in a bid to find an equaliser.
A wicked Conor Henderson free-kick with 13 minutes remaining was inches over McLeod’s head and Cuellar almost scored another own goal but instead saw his flicked header go wide and out for a corner.
As Reds searched desperately for an equaliser there was late drama as McLeod’s downward header from a Smith corner looked to be handled on the goalline.
From the resulting flag kick, Tomlin’s swivel in the six-yard box was sensationally stopped by Rudd and cleared.
Into the second minute of four added on, Josh Murphy added gloss to the scoreline – which was cruel on Crawley – as he weaved past a couple of challenges before rifling into the top right-hand corner.
This was to prove the killer blow to Crawley who will perhaps look back ruefully on the two late McLeod and Tomlin incidents.
REDS: Jensen, Oyebanjo, Dickson, Henderson, Leacock, Edwards, Smith, McLeod, Walsh (c), Young (Tomlin 50), Bawling (O’Connor 63)
UNUSED SUBS: Bradley, Banya, Rose, Harrold