After an up and down season for Crawley Town, which saw them threatened by relegation before mounting a play-off challenge, I assess five things we have learnt from Harry Kewell’s first year in charge.
Kewell is the right man
With little managerial and low league experience prior to taking the job, questions were asked when Harry Kewell was appointed as manager of a team among the favourites to be relegated to the National League.
However with the pedigree of a Champions League winners’ medal to his name, after a playing career at the highest level, the former winger has instilled an exciting, attacking mentality into the Reds which has won over the doubting fans - although that didn’t happen overnight.
Crawley made a desperately slow start to the season, winning just four of their first 18 games, and found themselves as low as 21st in November following a 4-0 thrashing at Wycombe. This was the lowest point of the season for the Reds, with this heavy defeat sparking an angry reaction from some restless away fans who were confronted by Kewell following the full-time whistle.
It seemed time was up for the Australian, but he turned it around dramatically in the following three months, guiding the Reds up to ninth place after 11 wins from 16 games, breaking club records in the process.
This upturn in form was a testament to the style of play, positivity and most of all patience instilled by the boss, who found himself linked with League One Charlton Athletic in March.
However, he rubbished such talk by expressing his desire to ‘take Crawley to the Premier League’ which can only excite fans, whilst also epitomising his outstanding positivity and desire to make a name for himself as a manager and take a lower-league club to the highest level.
Kewell has repeatedly stressed all season that it will take time to evolve and adapt to his methods and fans are now starting to see significant progress, despite their form dropping off at the end of the season.
The players evidently have trust in each other’s ability and there is a real sense of togetherness in the squad, bringing new found belief and confidence around the whole club and if they can keep it up, there is no limit to what Crawley can achieve.
Consistency the missing key
The main problem for Crawley this season has been a stark lack of consistency. Making a prediction about their results has been almost impossible, with Crawley often beating the teams in the top half of the table but slipping up against teams fighting relegation.
Although this does highlight the competitiveness of League Two football, it shows that Crawley need a winning formula, which can get the better of any opponent in the division.
The style of their performance has been largely unchanged since Kewell took over, with the manager demanding his side to ‘play the right way’ every game regardless of the score, which has seen Crawley put together some brilliant performances, but an alternative game plan is often needed when things aren’t going their way.
The Reds proved that they are capable of finding some consistency by earning eight victories in ten games from December through to February, including a club record five home wins in a row. If they could have put together a run of form like that more often, they would have been a serious challenger for promotion.
Prolific striker needed
Despite bringing in an attacking brand of football, Kewell has seen his side struggle for goals this season. There have been countless times where excellent displays have gone unrewarded with points, particularly at home, because of a lack of a natural goal scorer up front.
Before the hugely successful loan signing of Karlan Ahearne-Grant from Charlton in January, who scored eight goals in his first nine games, the Reds strongly felt the absence of James Collins who departed for Luton at the end of last season. Collins scored 20 goals in the one season he spent at Crawley, making him top scorer, and finished with just one short of that this season with his new club, helping them to a second place finish and promotion to League One.
Regular starters Enzio Boldewijn, who has mainly been deployed as a winger, and midfielder Jimmy Smith finished as the Reds’ joint highest scorers this season with just ten goals, while forward Ahearne-Grant was just one short despite playing less than half the amount of minutes.
Who knows what might have been had Karlan signed at the beginning of the season, but Crawley unfortunately won’t find out what impact the 20-year-old would have over the course of a whole season, as he has returned to his parent club who earned a place in the League One play-offs.
This puts pressure on Kewell to find an adequate replacement in the summer, unless strikers Thomas Verheydt, Panutche Camara or Boldewijn can add a lot more goals to their game. An attacking mentality is all well and good, but a man to finish the chances off is what makes all the difference.
Consistent defensive pairing proves pivotal
Albeit some inevitable mishaps that come with the territory of playing League Two football, the defensive side of their game has been a significant positive for Crawley this season with Josh Yorwerth and Mark Connolly forming a solid centre-back partnership.
Connolly and Yorwerth started together for 17 out of the 18 games prior to the 2-2 draw at Carlisle, with the one exception coming in the 4-1 defeat to high-flying Luton. In those 17 games, the Reds won 11 times and drew twice conceding just 19 goals with this consistent partnership.
In stark contrast, before their 1-1 home draw against Swindon in April, Crawley had conceded 13 goals in the previous four games. In this time, three different centre-back partnerships were deployed due to injuries and suspensions to their regular centre halves.
This was a worrying defensive demise, and they were not able to fully recover despite both Connolly and Yorwerth starting together for the final six games of the season, in which they conceded ten goals whilst failing to keep another clean sheet. Although this was an improvement, and once again highlighted the importance of a consistent pairing at the back.
Elsewhere in defence, there was also an array of top performances from full-back Lewis Young who posed far more of an attacking threat than he has done in recent seasons, scoring his first three goals for the club, whilst also providing five assists.
He looked full of confidence week in, week out and picked up at least four man of the match awards for his efforts, which epitomised the hunger and desire instilled into the team by Harry Kewell.
There must also be a mention given to Glenn Morris, who started all but two of Crawley’s league games this term and was arguably their most consistent player. At least one sensational save was almost expected of him every week, with the 34-year-old well worth his double Player of the Year awards at the end of the season. It seems crazy to think he was signed primarily as a goalkeeping coach, who wasn’t intending on playing many games at all.
Crawley may have failed to force themselves into the top seven this season due to a lacklustre start and end to the campaign, but this may not be the worst thing in the world for the Reds, who still have a lot of improvements to make.
Going up this season may have done more harm than good in the long run, if they were to badly struggle in League one and come straight back down. If they can keep hold of the manager and their key players, while also making a few astute additions, they have the basis of a team who has the potential to become promotion contenders.
Having a name like Harry Kewell at the helm will only help attract players to the club, with the Australian’s experience at the highest level providing an invaluable lesson of what footballers can achieve.
In speaking to a number of Crawley players this season, I quickly found out that Kewell is a perfectionist who doesn’t rest until he is satisfied his players are fully prepared for their game ahead. This work ethic will only rub off on the squad, and help them take themselves to the next level of their playing careers.