Well what a difference a week makes…!
If you’re going to stop a slide and a losing streak there’s no better way to do it than what we witnessed against Luton on Saturday. The performance was sublime and the team selection spot on.
With Glenn Morris given his first start of the season and with Connolly and McNerney again at the back we started the game on solid foundations. Glenn Morris might not have the stature of Mersin or Beeney but he more than makes up for it with experience. His command of his box and his communication throughout was reflected in the confidence that his back four showed in him. Almost unnoticed by some they immediately sat a little further up the field and were less inviting of the pressure we have been forced to soak up in recent weeks. Morris has made it a difficult task to be replaced by the charges he coaches and appears to be a perfect lesson in leading by example.
Connelly and McNerney really do seem to me to be the obvious choice at the back. They work well together and are clearly now forming the bond that was so badly missing last season at the back. Consistency is key to this relationship and I genuinely hope that they get the time now to settle in. Yet another goal-line clearance from Mark in the first half cannot no unmentioned. His ability to be in the right place at the right time is almost zen-like and his willingness to give everything for the cause is a quality that is clearly loved on the terrace.
Lewis Young at right back had another excellent game. His progression at the club is quite astounding and I have to say that I’m delighted for him. He took some terrible abuse from the terrace in his early days but he never once stopped applauding those same fans that criticised him. It takes a special type of person to do that and I’m so pleased that his hard work and commitment has been rewarded by the acknowledgement of those same fans that they may have to eat their words. His performance defensively was understated and workmanlike, but the cross for the first goal was an absolute gem. I’ve commented previously on my desire to see him get further forwards and Dermot really does seem to be encouraging that in his game with devastating effect.
The left back position still worries me. It’s not quite right yet and I’m still undecided on both Blackman and Arthur. I fear for both of them that January may see them both consigned to half a season on the bench if they don’t improve soon. Whilst neither were terrible on Saturday by any means, the outstanding performance of the rest of the team did highlight their shortcomings and it was noticeable to me that Luton clearly targeted our left flank in the first half. Banton had a good game in front of Blackman (and for a few minutes Arthur) but he offers little defensive protection to those behind him. Roberts, when he came on at 72 minutes seemed to offer a little more defensive stability on the flank as well as his ability to push forwards. He may not be fully fit yet, but I don’t think it’ll be long before he’s able to give that protection from the outset.
Performance of the Day has to go to Kaby Djalo, and what a debut it was for the diminutive Guinea-Bissauan. First to everything, sharp in the tackle and vocal throughout. Above all of these qualities however was his distribution. I wrote last week about us being “nearly there” and the midfield being the final piece in the puzzle. In Kaby Djalo I think we found the missing piece. His work in midfield allowed Jimmy and Billy to sit further forwards and give Collins the support he needs and deserves. Both Jimmy and Billy had a good shout for man of the match on their performances and looked like the players we’ve seen flashes of already this season.
On the left of course we had another Enzio performance. The cherry on the cake of course was the goal and subsequent celebration, but whenever he has the ball it’s exciting. Unless of course you’re an opposing right-back in which case I would imagine that it’s bloody frightening.
A third headed goal and forth of the season for Collins was just reward for the work that he’s put in recently. No longer the isolated figure of recent weeks he was able to link up effectively with his midfield support and show why he’s such a highly prized asset.
I honestly think that with this team (with possibly the swap of Roberts for Banton) we can get a result pretty much anywhere this season. Solid at the back, fluid and sharp in midfield and clinical in attack. Not a bad combination when you look at it.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dean Cox on Saturday and whilst I am delighted to see him join the club, on Saturday’s performance he’s got his work cut out finding his way in to the team. Indeed there must be a few players on Saturday who watched that performance wondering when or even if they will get to play a league game.
Whilst it seems simple to stick with a winning formula, the challenge for Dermot now is two-fold: Firstly, how does he keep his whole squad happy? There will be a few players now finding themselves on the fringes whereas before they were guaranteed starters. Secondly, how does he (and possibly more importantly Selim and Kelly) keep this squad together through the next transfer window? The likes of Djalo, Boldwijn, Roberts, Connolly and Young are going to be seeing interest from outside the club if they carry on with Saturday’s level of performance. The rebuilding of our club has only just begun, but for the rebuilding to progress we’ll need stability. I don’t imaging that’s of great interest to clubs outside of Crawley and I’ll certainly be glad to see a quiet January.
Finally I’d like to give a bit of credit for something that most people don’t even see. On Saturday my Youngest (Oliver) was mascot for the day. In the past this simply involved buying kit, having a kick-about on the pitch before kickoff and walking out with the team. This season the experience has been significantly enhanced and with the Club and the CTSA working together this now involves a meeting with the manager, a visit to the changing room to meet the team and a very extensive tour of the ground, in addition to the kick-about on the pitch and walk out with the players. All this for £49 is a bargain quite frankly, but it wouldn’t have happened without the club and manager putting in the work. Dermot and Kelly were far more receptive than their predecessors to the format that we’ve now arrived at and the access to the players is unprecedented. My eldest (Ethan) whose birthday it was on Saturday cunningly accompanied his brother on the tour and they were both in awe of their experience. Getting information out of them, like most parents I imagine, is often like extracting blood from a stone, but they still haven’t stopped talking about it. They loved their conversation with Matt Gray and their meeting with Dermot. But I have to give immense credit to the players for the openness and friendliness throughout. Jimmy was apparently the consummate host and the players all warm and welcoming. When you consider that they gave their time and attention so willingly in the final hour before kickoff you have to give them credit.
I would urge anybody with children to take up the mascot package, it really is a very special experience. But it’s only very special because we now have a very special team both on and off the pitch making things happen.