After a crushing FA Cup defeat at the hands of division higher Southend United, Crawley bounced back with a vital and hard earned League Two victory over Crewe Alexandra. Here are five things we learned from an up and down week.
Reds show fighting spirit
One thing which no one can question is Crawley's fighting spirit. When 2-0 down against Southend at half time, not even the most optimistic fan could have envisaged the second half performance and fight back to take the game to extra time. After the first half performance, damage limitation seemed a likely option for Cioffi, but instead he brought on forward thinking Ashley Nathaniel-George for holding midfielder George Francomb. Although A N-G didn't make a huge individual impact, his pace and drive spurred Crawley on to a much improved second half performance.
In hindsight, fans may have preferred the game to stay at 2-1, or at least concede a third before extra time, as extra time proved a step too far for Crawley, conceding four goals. Although Southend deserved to progress on the balance of play, 6-2 flattered them and was a harsh reflection of a game which Crawley never gave up on. Even at 6-2 down, they still pushed men forward in search of a consolation goal.
It can also not go unnoticed that despite this heavy scoreline, which undoubtedly would have hit the players hard, they picked themselves up four days later and made amends with a excellent 3-0 victory, which will hopefully re-install some much needed confidence for the rest of the season. It didn't matter how they did it, they just needed a win to stop the rut of seven games without a win.
Super Glenn Morris needs support with defence improvements
In the end, it was defensive errors which really cost Crawley against Southend. The usually dependable leader Mark Connolly struggled to cope with almost every attack by the visitors, and was largely at fault for the sloppy way in which the third goal went in. Bondz N'Gala, who made a very impressive start to life at Crawley, also struggled but made fewer individual errors in a performance full of heart and may have just been an off day. This was reflected by Cioffi's decision to drop Connolly against Crewe, but show faith in N'Gala, who started and kept a clean sheet,
It wasn't just Connolly who struggled midweek. Many of the problems lay with the full backs. Josh Doherty had a nightmare first half, compounded by his early own goal, whilst Lewis Young was repeatedly caught out on the counter. Both players did not start against Crewe as a result, but Young was given a few minutes to make amends. It turned out a few minutes was all he needed, as he burst down the line in trademark fashion, and put in a pinpoint cross for veteran Dannie Bulman to seal the victory in injury time.
Joe McNerney and Joe Maguire started yesterday, providing a goal and assist respectively, whilst also keeping a clean sheet. This and the scoreline may suggest a comfortable game for Reds, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The pair were part of a defence which had to deal with a seemingly never ending onslaught by Crewe, who I still can't believe didn't score.
Combined with the heroics of Glenn Morris, who never fails to amaze me with the saves he makes, Crewe can only really blame themselves for not winning the game with the number of chances they had (ten first half attempts). They were made to pay for a mix of poor finishing and taking too much time on the ball in key areas.
Despite the result, Crawley were far from their best, and if it wasn't for the performance of Morris, who would have secured the man of the match award even before half time, Crewe would have been out of sight before half time. Crawley's defence looked in disarray in the first half, and work is needed in that area, because Morris can't be relied upon to save them every game — as was proven against Southend.
When Ollie Palmer is on his game, most would find it very difficult to not agree with Gabriele Cioffi that he is a Championship player.
To quote the manager, Palmer is a top player and was by far the best Reds player on Tuesday night, if not the best on the pitch, so for him not to be awarded with man of the match is hard to believe.
His power, speed and drive single handedly brought Crawley back from the grave after half time in the FA Cup, scoring two trademark goals and very nearly adding a third following a seemingly impossible touch to control a high through ball. If that shot, which hit the side netting, had gone in, the Reds would have won 3-2 and been facing a second round tie at home to Barnsley. Instead, they lost 6-2 after a gruelling 30 minutes of extra time. Fine margins.
With 11 goals from his first 20 games, Palmer is well on his way to eclipsing James Collins' club total of 20 goals from 45 games— although Reds fans will definitely be hoping this star striker stays at the club for more than just one season.
One half Reds
In what is becoming a regular occurrence, Crawley only seem to perform in one half this season. The exact reason for this is unclear, but as mentioned already, Crawley looked a completely different team after the break on Tuesday, after a poor first half. However, after getting back into the game, they seemed to burn out in extra time.
Then, on Saturday, they struggled in the first 45 minutes with Morris to thank for being ahead at the break. Despite Crewe continuing to see more off the ball, Crawley did improve in the second period and must get credit for taking the few chances they had to seal the win.
If Crawley can start maintaining an impressive performance for the full 90 minutes, who knows how far they can go.
Results needed to retain full crowd
As expected, the fans turned out in full force on Tuesday to spur Crawley on for a rare FA Cup game at Broadfield Stadium. Crawley reported that 3,120 people came through the turnstiles on Tuesday, with 324 away fans. This was the perfect opportunity for Crawley to impress those who don't come as regularly, and start to realise their manager's dream of playing in front of a full stadium.
Speaking at the start of November, Cioffi said: “Even though we are hot and cold, I wish Broadfield Stadium could soon be filled up. I would like our enthusiasm and passion will spread through the family, will go into the houses and they will bring along more people. We want to achieve something special with the fans’ support. We are working hard every day and want to make the Crawley fans happy and let them dream."
Despite the incredible second half fightback, which hopefully would have won over some, the final result and defending deflected away from what was a good overall attacking performance.
Cioffi will be hoping that the second half display is what the fans remember, rather than the extra time capitulation which saw a mass exodus before the full time whistle, and that the game doesn't represent a missed opportunity.
According to the club's figures, 1,593 of the 2,796 home fans returned for yesterday's league game, which of course isn't a bad return, but who knows what the number would have been if Crawley had won after their impressive FA Cup fightback.