With three games to catch up on I’ll get straight to the point: We’re FIFTH…!!! Yes, it’s early in the season. Yes, we’re still only 9 points off relegation. But we’re fifth guys, enjoy the moment. League 2 is incredibly tight, but we’re 7 points from the top of the league, we’ve had a bad run of three losses on the bounce and our goal difference isn’t in negative figures. (It’s not in positive figures either, but you get my point).
Morecambe v Crawley 24th September 2016
I didn’t go to Morecambe, hence why I didn’t write a column last week, but having now had the opportunity to talk to a few that did make the journey I apparently missed a good, spirited performance. With 54% of the possession and 16 shots (6 on target) we clearly went to Morecambe on the offensive and we came back with what by all accounts was a well-deserved and battled-for 3 points. Well done to the fans that made the journey, it looks like you were well rewarded for your efforts.
Crawley v Colchester 27th September 2016
The game against Colchester was a real game of two halves. With the recent introduction of Kaby Djalo, Crawley controlled the midfield with military efficiency, allowing Clifford and Smith to play further up the field and better support James Collins. Part of this strength came from the fact that they seemed to be putting two men on Enzio, leaving them short elsewhere. Even then though he still managed to get away from them on multiple occasions showing the class that hopefully we’ll get to see for a couple of years yet. The 1-0 lead at half time was well deserved and most of us went in to the bar at half time feeling like we could close out the game in some style. Colchester, for all of their size (and by god do they breed them big in Colchester) seemed to offer little by way of structured response. I felt like we still had another gear to give in the second half and that we were cruising to comfortable victory.
Well I’ve been following Crawley long enough that I really should have known better. I still don’t feel in retrospect that Colchester really upped their game in the second half, rather that we sat too deep and made it easier for them than we should have done. When Clifford was substituted in the 54th minute and replaced by Davey I felt that we gave away any initiative that we had and it all started to look rather worrying. It wasn’t the introduction of Davey per se that made the difference, rather the fact that he moved in to the defensive position previously occupied by Djalo and Kaby was forced to sit further forwards in Clifford’s space. In doing this we seemed to lose the engine room somewhat. Kaby was just a little too far forward to carry on his terrier-like game, snapping at the heels of the Colchester giants (well they were to him) and the pressure mounted. Personally I would have preferred Banton to have come on for a straight replacement of Clifford and we could have better held our shape.
In the 88th minute sadly the inevitable happened and we conceded an equaliser. Whilst I accept that our disappointment at a draw speaks volumes for the ambition of the team and club at present, it was still two points that we should not have given away.
Crawley v Blackpool 1st October
In the words of Ian Holloway in his time at Blackpool, “Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi.” The only real downside for me in this game was that I’d spent the last couple of weeks “selling” Crawley to a few friends of mine, telling them how things are progressing nicely and how the style of play has significantly improved to deliver a level of entertainment that we haven’t seen in a while. And then we go and put out possibly one of our most boring performances in weeks…! We weren’t bad, not by a long way, but it wasn’t the free-flowing stuff that we’ve been used to in the last four games. A few players weren’t quite at 100% on Saturday and we nearly didn’t get away with it. Even Mark Connolly had a bad touch that he had to follow up with a bookable challenge to recover. Kaby Djalo was still good by anyone’s standards but his own and Enzio was worryingly quiet. As Tom Branch said on Saturday, only Mark could score with a tackle…! Had we been on the receiving end of that goal I’m sure most of us would have been extremely unhappy that it was given, but we weren’t and it was, so happy days and thanks for the three points…
Much has been made of Blackpool’s decline of late and the feelings of the fans are there for all to see, reinforced by the level of security provided to Owen Oyston on his arrival, but the sad fact is that Blackpool are not even a shadow of the club they once were. There is a very real fear among the fans that they may be taking their near 17,000 all seater stadium to the Conference at this rate. From what I saw on Saturday I share their fears.
It is often said that the sign of a great team is winning when they play badly. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with this, but what I will say is that we have a team with incredible spirit. Once we got our lead on Saturday we defended throughout the pitch (and much higher up than on Tuesday) with every player putting in a shift that whilst it wasn’t always pretty, was effective.
There is some irony and evidence of the fickle nature of the press that Mark Connolly found his way in to the EFL team of the week off the back of this game. Ironically I felt that it wasn’t Mark’s best game of the season, I felt that he’d had much bigger defensive performances this season, but what a difference a goal makes! That being said, whilst I’m delighted for him to have made the team of the week, if we could keep the bigger clubs at bay for now I’d be grateful. Mark is one of a few players who must surely be under the watchful eye of some more lucrative competitors and I’m starting to think that locking them all in a basement somewhere throughout January might be the best policy right now.
With a quarter of the season now gone we have a team that’s really starting to take shape. With strength and bite in midfield, solidity in defence, confidence in goal, flair on the wings and a striker who clearly knows what to do with the ball we have every reason to carry on being optimistic.
Of course we’ll lose a few games along the way, but I genuinely think that a play-off place is achievable. So do the players. Speaking to a few of them last week it was clear that the affection in which they hold their manager is having a direct effect on the motivation of the team and the belief within. Dermot has done well to assemble this collection of players and when he has the majority of them available he has the ability to do great things. His attitude to matters off the pitch is making a huge difference as well. The involvement of the team on Friday at the Macmillan Coffee Morning was both delightful and welcome.
Tonight we go to the Valley for our second game in the Checkatrade Trophy. I know that not everybody is in support of the new format, but I hope that everybody is in support of our team. A win tonight and we’re guaranteed a place in the knock-out stages. We’ve been bemoaning the lack of a cup run for a couple of years now, maybe now is the time to break that chain.