We all know that it would come sooner or later, none of us expected to go the whole season unbeaten. But what sticks in the throat is the tame capitulation that we witnessed on Saturday.
I’m trying very hard here not to overreact or be overly critical, but two shots on target in the ninety minutes brought memories flooding back of last season. Having quick wingers with a willingness to get forwards is all very well, but if there’s no end product then it all feels a bit pointless. Combine this with a recurring ability to give away goals in the final minutes and it all feels horribly familiar.
Let’s get the first elephant in the room out of the way early: The ref was appalling on Saturday, but I honestly don’t think it would have significantly changed the result had he been any different. He seemed very happy to have a chat with the Notts County players following any minor discretion, allowing them ample time to get back in to position. But when Crawley put in a firm tackle (and I’m thinking specifically of Lewis Young here), he couldn’t get his card out of his pocket quick enough. If you watch the replays you’ll see that he actually stumbles while running towards Lewis in his eagerness to fish the card out. The disallowed goal looked very weak, but at the same time, we know that goalkeepers get too much protection so we shouldn’t really be surprised.
For me there were two linked issues with Saturday: The strength of our squad and the formation that we played.
I fully understand that Dermot has a limited budget to work with and a limited pool of players to choose from. In my opinion he’s done an excellent job in assembling the main bulk of players, but when you dig a bit deeper and look at the options away from the prime 11 or 12 players, we’re looking a bit thin on the ground in quality. And this then has a knock-on effect on the formation we play.
When everybody’s fit and Dermot’s got his first choice team on the pitch I don’t doubt that we can play the free-flowing attacking style that he wants to see with devastating effect. Unfortunately though, when we need to bring in replacements from the squad to fill in for injuries and suspensions the players coming in just aren’t good enough to play the way that Dermot wants.
Maybe it’s a hangover from his Chelsea days and too many hours spent around a certain Mr Mourinho, but one of my biggest criticisms of that particular manager is that he seems unable or unwilling to actually “manage”. What he does (to devastating effect I should concede) is assemble players that play the way he wants. If they don’t fit his mold then he simply ships them out. What he doesn’t do, if they don’t fit (as Juan Mata would have testified in the past) is work with what they bring to see what he can do with the sum of the parts. Now that’s fine when you’ve got Roman or Malcolm’s millions to spend. But we’re Crawley, we don’t have the money to spend, we have to manage with what we’ve got and sometimes you have to adapt.
None of our players are “bad”, but they’re not all up to playing the way that Dermot wants. When Josh Yorwerth went off injured on Saturday it was obvious to most of us that simply pushing Alex Davey in to his position and attempting to carry on regardless was not going to work, we needed to change our shape and our approach. Clifford sat deeper and deeper and Collins looked more and more isolated. Whilst we looked good on the wings when we finally managed to get the ball out there, we lacked a spine in more ways than one and few of us felt confident even in the brief period that we were one-nil up that we’d walk away victorious.
So cutting to the chase, here are my player ratings from Saturday:
Mersin – 5 – This guy scares the hell out of me. Not at fault for the three goals, but looks scared and baffled by crosses. Distribution is poor and telegraphed. Glen Morris must be getting near making an appearance soon.
Young – 6 – One of the brighter lights on Saturday. Seems to be growing by the game in stature and confidence and is starting to show the shoots of progress that could finally see him meet his potential. The only real negative was that he was slow to react and should have closed down the short corner for Notts’ first goal.
Davey – 5 – Rode his luck early when playing at the back. Got three interceptions in when I honestly felt stood behind him that he had no idea where the ball was. Struggled when moved in to midfield and gave away a lot of possession while offering the back line little protection.
McNerney – 6 – Not bad, but not that great. Surprised to see him pick up another Man of the Match award, but then it was a tough ask for anyone that was sponsoring on Saturday.
Blackman – 4 – Looking increasingly less like a left back as the weeks progress. Penalty was one that’ll be showing up on a gaffs reel for some time to come.
Yorwerth (Substituted for Connolly at 41’minutes) – 6 – Tried in vain to get forwards. Neither impressed nor disappointed in his short time on the pitch. Doing the thankless role in midfield means that his removal probably showed more about how much he does than his presence did.
Connelly – 6 – Came on and did what we know he can do. His absence in the starting line-up is a cause of concern for many fans and his introduction was greeted with enthusiasm. One of the few moments of the afternoon when you actually heard the crowd.
Clifford (Substituted for Bawling at 70’minutes) – 5 – No real, meaningful endeavour. A poor man’s Jordan Roberts.
Bawling – 5 – Failed to get in to the game when he came on. Not entirely his fault as he needs service from the centre. Still not keen on tracking back and unsure of what to do when he does.
Smith – 5 – A quiet day by his recent standards.
Boldewijn – 7 – Man of the match for me. A well worked goal and great endeavour on the wing when he was finally supplied.
Collins – 5 – Not mobile enough, not able to hold the ball up, created nothing on his own. Badly needs either support from midfield or a strike partner.
Banton (Substituted for Yussuf at 62’minutes) – 5 – A quiet day at the office. Not the forward endeavour we’ve become used to.
Yussuf – 5 – Didn’t really get in to the game when he came on and offered little.
I can see that Dermot has a plan and he’s been very straight about the way he wants to play, but he needs to have a plan B in his locker or this could end up being a long and painful season.
We have three tough games ahead of us now, with Colchester tomorrow in the cup and then Portsmouth and Stevenage away. All three of these games look increasingly like ones we’ll be approaching with a depleted squad. I genuinely fear that if we approach them with the same formation and weakened squad that we’ll go from 8 points in 5 to 8 points in 7 and that doesn’t have quite as much of a comfortable ring to it.