Missed chances cost Crawley Town in a 2-0 Boxing Day defeat to MK Dons at home as John Gregory suffered his first defeat as manager.
Stephen Gleeson volleyed the Dons in front against the run of play midway through the first half and their top scorer Patrick Bamford added a second after the break.
In an even contest throughout with Reds arguably the better side for much of it and they spurned some gilt edge chances, substitute Jamie Proctor missing a one-on-one opening in the second half.
And their miserable afternoon saw injuries to both Dannie Bulman (suspected broken cheekbone) and Nicky Adams (back), while Billy Clarke was shown a straight red card late on meaning all three could be missing for Reds’ busy festive run of three games in seven days.
Gregory was forced into one change from Reds’ 3-2 win at Leyton Orient, the suspended Kyle McFadzean replaced by James Hurst.
In the fourth minute Clarke flicked on for Nicky Adams, who got in behind right-back Lee Hodson and from a tight angle on the left drilled a low shot just wide of the far post.
Dons keeper David Martin twice put his defence under pressure with short passes which led to a Reds free kick on the right. It was played into the box and headed up into the air and straight to Alexander, who could only nod a guilt-edge chance straight into Martin’s clutches.
Reds then lost winger Adams to injury, replaced by Proctor who went to partner Alexander upfront, Clarke moving wide left.
Dons’ first strike at goal came in the 21st minute, the Reds defence backing off danger man Bamford and his shot deflected just wide for a corner. When that was played in the ball was headed out to Gleeson who, from outside the box fired in a first-time volley which crept through a crowd of bodies and into the far corner for the opening goal.
Crawley’s response was impressive though, a couple of good moves and crosses from the right just snuffed out by centre back Jordan Spence.
The visitors twice then went close with shots from just outside the box, first Ben Reeves curled just wide before Bamford twisted and turned and fired over.
In between those efforts Reds were forced into a second change, Bulman this time having to go off injured with a suspected broken cheekbone with 40 minutes played, fans’ favourite Sergio Torres replacing him.
On the stroke of half-time Joe Walsh just failed to make proper contact with a glancing header from a Drury free kick when unmarked just inside the box.
In stoppage time Torres beautifully controlled a lofted ball through the middle without breaking stride but his second touch was to lob over the goal as the visitors went into the break with a slender lead.
With the second half five minutes old Crawley should have been level. A lightning break saw Mat Sadler advanced up the field from left back, he stood up a cross to the back post where the arriving Alexander didn’t connect cleanly to prod wide when completely unmarked.
At the other end Samir Carruthers clipped a curling shot into the side netting from 20 yards, before Proctor flashed a low shot wide of the far post just out of the reach of Alexander as Reds showed their intent.
But in the 59th minute Karl Robinson’s Dons scored against the run of play for a second time. This time Carruthers slipped Bamford in behind the Reds defence and the on-loan Chelsea striker raced in on goal and fired in his 14th league goal of the season, Paul Jones getting a hand to it but not enough to keep it out.
Argentinian midfielder Torres came agonisingly close but his piledriver crashed against the angle of Martin’s goal.
Bamford had the chance to seal the points when he sprung the offside trap in the 72nd minute but he fired straight at Paul Jones.
Crawley were far from lying down and defender Walsh had a header cleared off the line by the head of substitute George Baldock.
Both sides were trading attacks and out of nothing a deep ball over put Proctor in the clear, but he waited and waited before going for the chip and Martin was out to smother and deny Crawley a way back into the game.
With five minutes remaining Reds’ day got even worse when Clarke went in two-footed on Lee Hodson and was shown a straight red card. He will now miss the next three league games against Notts County on Sunday, Swindon and Coventry.
REDS (4-4-2): P Jones; Hurst, Sadler, Connolly, Walsh; Adams (Proctor 18), M Jones, Bulman (Torres 41), Drury; Alexander, Clarke. Subs: Essam, Torres, Proctor, Sinclair, Smith, Malins, Maddison.
DONS (4-4-1-1): Lewington, Hodson, Williams (Kay 55), Spence; Jennings (Baldock 66), Carruthers, Gleeson, Potter; Reeves; Bamford (Smith 90). Subs: Flanagan, Smith, McLoughlin, Galloway