It’s been a few weeks now since my last blog post; partly due to the fact that I’ve been busy moving house and all the joys that entails, but more honestly because I didn’t want to just write something negative about the club and start to fall in to the trap of blaming individuals.
It’s been a poor couple of months for Crawley Town with only a few rays of sunlight to keep us away from the drop-zone. I’ve read the usual bluster on the forum, (both myopically positive and doom-mongeringly negative). I’ve attended games, I’ve spoken to people who’ve attended games. I’ve spoken to players and staff alike and formed my own view on where we currently sit as a team and a club.
This is the bit where I have to say that these are my views and my views alone. You might agree with all, some, or none of them, but I venture them as an opinion for discussion (and in some quarters, probably ridicule).
Let’s look first of all at where we started this season: We had new owners that we knew little about. We had little or no connection between the club and the fans. We had a new manager (yes, yes, I know he’d had a couple of games at the end of last season, but you get my drift). With falling gates and no squad, compounded by the change in loan rules for this season we were not in a good place.
It’s all too easy to only look at the results on the pitch when you look at the club’s performance this season. In my view though, there is a lot more to a club’s “performance” than simply its results. We have to look at the performance of the club holistically over that period before we move to snap judgements.
Ziya Eren was very clear when he took over that he was not simply going to throw money at the club. We’d been down that road before, at one stage losing over £6k a day and look where we ended up! He increased the playing budget by a reported 10% and made it very clear that he was more interested I the short term of improving the clubs infrastructure, commercial arm and fan connection. I honestly believe that he’s been largely successful in this. Whilst the move to a new training facility in Ifield has not apparently gone to plan, it’s safe to say that investment elsewhere is starting to show. Whilst the dreaded PA system still blights us, the general improvement of facilities around the ground is a positive step. Even the hand dryers are working these days…! It’s all about getting our foundations right first, without that we won’t have a club to moan about.
Commercially the club has moved on in leaps and bounds. A number of new sponsors have come in and whilst it may have passed without notice or fanfare last week against Grimsby, for the first time in a very long time the hospitality suite was sold out well in advance of the fixture. This alone is a good barometer of the progress that Graham and Selim have made on the commercial front.
I honestly believe that fan connection is at a vastly improved level on where we have been in recent seasons. The openness of the board and the staff, in hand with Dermot Drummy’s support and enthusiasm for fan engagement has meant that for the first time in a long time the fans feel like they are part of something. Now I fully accept that sometimes it’s a case of suffering together as much as celebrating, but at least we feel included and involved. The fact that players now celebrate in front of and with the fans is no accident or chance.
I note that our previous owner has recently resurfaced on social media after a period of silence. Having spoken to him at length previously I can honestly say that for all his mistakes, he did care deeply for the club. He will admit that he didn’t always get it right and at times his approach was divisive, but it’s nice to see that now, as he’s only a fan like the rest of us that he also can appreciate the changes that we can all feel. It’s also great to see him so supportive of the new regime. Perhaps those fans who were so blinkered in their support of Paul and his money previously will take his lead and embrace his supportive approach of a club in transition. As Paul has eluded to, you can’t fix everything overnight and we would be mad to think that we could. Talk of promotion this season was fanciful at best, we need to consolidate and retain our league status. If we can fix the majority of off-field problems whilst maintaining our league status, giving us a firm foundation to build on then that has to deemed a significant marker for success.
The Team and the change in loan system
At the end of last season we had three players contracted to the club: Joe McNerney, Gwion Edwards and Simon Walton. Whilst we obviously kept Joe (and thank god we did), Gwion was always going to move on and Simon clearly didn’t fit with the midfield that Dermot wanted to build. So we had one player…!
20 new players were brought in to a club with falling attendances and limited budget. With the end of the old loan system we had to make sure that we had a full squad at the start of the season that would cover our bases whilst simultaneously not kill us financially, at least until January. Now that’s a tall order for any manager, let alone one that’s managing in league two with (and I’ll phrase this one delicately) one of the league’s less attractive outfits. As Dave Pottinger once said to me: “you don’t come to Crawley unless there’s something not quite right”.
I honestly believe that our first choice 11 (plus one or two) is as good as any side I’ve seen in the league this season. We proved that against Grimsby last week when we had everyone bar Joe McNerney fit and available. Sadly though, the peripheral players are really not League 2 standard, or at least we don’t have the time and luxury to bring them in en-masse to gain experience.
Were we to bring in one or two of these peripheral players at a time to bring them on alongside our existing first choice players then I think it all might have worked, but as we proved against Yeovil on Saturday, bring too many of these squad players in at one time and the results can be devastatingly poor.
And this is where we get to what is in my opinion the nub of the issue: If the first team is fit and available, we’re fine. In fact we’re better than fine, we’re good. If it’s not, we’re stuffed. We could argue that Dermot has been unlucky with injuries and suspensions, but that’s just part and parcel or football in League 2 and it’s the one area where I feel Dermot may have been a bit naive. League Two is a physical, combative league. You’re going to pick up injuries and you’re going to pick up suspensions (although Andre Blackman does seem to have taken that to a whole new level…!).
January for me is make or break time for the squad. Whilst the addition of Dean Cox will be a welcome one to the attacking side of our play, don’t expect this to be a silver bullet. We need to stop conceding and we need to shore-up our defence. Joe McNerney is good when he’s fit, Mark Connolly is great when he’s not in hospital (an occupational hazard when you insist on putting your head in the way of things), Josh Yorweth is a good addition when he’s not back in the valleys and Lewis Young has been one of our most consistent players. But that’s where it ends.
I’m going to fall short of doing a complete hatchet job on Alex Davey, but the stats speak for themselves. He’s simply not either ready or suited for League Two football. Between Andre Blackman and Chris Arthur we could build half a defender, but neither have proved themselves either reliable or consistent enough to hold down a place.
I think that Addison Garnett could make a very good Centre Back at this level, but we don’t want him learning on the job unless he’s got reliable quality next to him. It’s not fair on him and it’s not fair on us.
Finally, our reliance on James Collins is a concern. He’s done extremely well for someone playing as a lone striker, but without him what options have we got? Matt Harrold is sadly injured again. When fit he’s a formidable addition to the squad, but those windows of fitness seem to be getting fewer and fewer.
January will really show us what our manager is made of. He’ll be judged as much by the players he gets rid of as by the players he brings in. I can’t believe that he’ll be allowed to grow the squad without making space and we may start to see the ruthless side of our manager come January. Without it I fear that his days may be numbered and I for one would be sad to see that happen. Another striker, a left back, right back and centre back must be very high up his shopping list.
Whilst the new owners may have a 10 year plan to get to the Championship that plan will take a significant dent if we get relegated. This league is as tight as it’s ever been and a run of three results one way or the other could mean knocking on the door of the playoffs or scrapping around at the bottom. If it’s the latter I don’t think that Ziya Eren will run that gamble for too long. He’s been very clear that his commercial team had to deliver or they would be gone and deliver they have. I would imagine that his approach to team management will be remarkably similar.
Dermot has been a huge influence on and off the field this season and has been completely integral to a number of the changes off the field as much to the change in playing style on it. Personally I’d like him to be judged at the end of the season, not half way through and for his performance to be assessed in the round. But first he has to get January right or he may not be here long enough to witness that judgement and that for me would be a huge shame.