Well after a brief off-season sabbatical it’s time to resume normal service. Sadly, due to work commitments I’ve missed all bar two of the pre-season matches and it would appear that Lewes and Aldershot may not have been the best examples to have taken in.
My poor pre-season planning aside, it’s rare that the start of a new season is greeted with such optimism at Crawley. Certainly over the past couple of years we’ve commenced the season more with a feeling of fear and dread than positivity, but this season (and you have to hand it to the club management) we’re collectively buzzing. Seeing the traffic on social media, the conversations I had with fellow supporters (even at Aldershot, a game that did for football what Nytol did for insomnia) I could see I wasn’t alone in my hope for the coming months.
I think now is as good a time as any to stand up and applaud the new management at the club. Most of us know (although some conveniently forget on occasions, mainly on the Forum!) that the club is run by a skeleton staff. But what a staff they are. From Kelly and Selim at the top (yes I know Zita Eren is above them, but he’s not always about), through to Bruce, Graham, Alex, the girls in the office, the bar, the MWB Suite and to the members of the Community Trust; every one of them has worked their socks off in the off-season, not just cleaning and fixing things, but building bridges with the disaffected fanbase. It’s in this final element that they have truly exceeded expectations. Personally I have had my own ups and downs with the club in recent years, but I can honestly say that in every recent interaction with the club they have been both positive and accommodating. They are all there doing the thing right thing for the right reasons; for the good of the club. I have not seen one ounce of self-adulation, just hard work and commitment. I accept that the fortunes of a club are heavily dictated by results on the pitch, but the work off it gives you the foundations on which to build. For the first time in a long time we look like we’re building our foundations on something rather than sand.
And on to the game:
We won. I don’t know if everybody is aware, but the new collective of players; young, relatively inexperienced, quick, nimble and trying to play football the way it should be played got the result. We were treated to some very direct (I think that’s the polite term) play from Wycombe and some appalling acting, whilst simultaneously having to work around a referee who’d look out of his depth in a puddle. But none of this seemed to phase us. Make no mistake, Wycombe will be up there or thereabouts at the end of the season and it was probably one of the hardest opening games we’ve had for a few years on paper, but clearly the extensive work on fitness levels and the desire to get the ball down is a formula which the early signs would indicate is going to give us some exciting and rewarding games this year. It wasn’t all plain sailing, Joe McNerney kept us in the game in the first half with two goal line clearances when Mersin seemed to go missing, and a late sending off made a few supporters with longer memories start twitching, but we did it. We rode our luck at times and I’m sure we’ll need to again, but that’s football. All in all we had a committed performance supported by a vocal, energised and enthusiastic group of supporters. And as the game went on, as the fans saw the desire and commitment, the support grew louder. Simple really isn’t it…?
As some of you already know, I was charged with choosing the Man of the Match on Sunday. This is always something of a poisoned chalice and Saturday was no different. I’ll attempt to explain my thinking below:
Mersin – Certainly not one of those games he’ll want the highlights of on YouTube. Flaky at best, rooted to his line and did little to instil confidence either in his defenders or the fans.
Young – Despite some of the regulars seated near me getting on his case before he’d even shaken hands with the opposition (I kid you not), I thought he had a good game. For once he made one of those runs he’s shown he’s capable of, but this time he kept going and didn’t put the handbrake on at the halfway line.
Connolly – The phrase “he’ll walk through walls for you” was invented for this guy. In the words of someone far more knowledgeable than me: “you don’t need skill to play there, you just need to be brave”. Now personally I think that does Mark a bit of a disservice, but he can tale that one up with the person in question directly.
McNerney – Solid, dependable, equally willing to walk through walls, but also had the ability to be in the right place at the right time to make two goal line clearances in the first half that kept us in the game. Had we have gone behind I don’t think we would have come back. Also dealt very well with Akinfenwa when he came on, making him look the lumbering lump that he’s finally become.
Blackman – More of a midfielder than a defender in my opinion, certainly better going forwards. Sending off for the second booking was stupid and could have proved costly. He should have known the risk of opening his mouth this season as there’s been enough coverage for it, although I do have an element of sympathy as the Wycombe goalkeeper produced a significant tirade earlier in the second half without rebuke. Looking forward to seeing Arthur there in the next game as I think he’s more naturally suited.
Smith – A good captain’s performance topped with a very well taken goal. In with a shout for Man of the Match, but I detest giving it to the goal scorer for the sake of it.
Banton – Unsettled a bit by the away fans, but did more good than bad. Replaced by Clifford (82) who had little opportunity to impress.
Payne – I like him a lot. A taller, slimmer Lee Fowler with a better work rate.
Roberts – Dangerous. Defences will be working out how best to deal with him in the coming games and that can only be a good thing.
Collins – He’ll get us goals, but for me he needs to play off a big man. Was replaced by that same big man Matt Harrold (89) who managed to take one for the team and get booked. Sadly I fear this is the role that Matt will have to get used to this season unless Collins gets injured.
Boldwijn – Fast and dangerous. Would like him to see more of the ball than he did, but early signs are promising. Replaced by Yussuf (95) who had a full two and a half minutes (of the 1 remaining) to impress. He didn’t.
Even the late introduction of The Beast couldn’t force a capitulation. Joe McNerney dealt easily with Akinfenwa when he came on, making him look like the overweight spent force he now seems to be turning in to. They always say that a striker starts to lose it when he loses his pace. In Akinfenwa’s case he never even had that and now that he can’t seem to jump. If the defender steps back and doesn’t give him anything to reach round and hold on to he’s lost. I luckily bumped in to Dermot Drummy in the Tilgate Bakery on Saturday morning and spoke about Akinfenwa and how the team would deal with him. Dermot neatly laid out what I just said, and at the time I though “well good luck with that approach”. And guess what, the man with years of high level coaching experience was right and I was wrong, who’d have figured…?