After two home defeats in a week against Wycombe Wanderers and Cheltenham Town, which have left Crawley’s play-off ambitions all but over, I assess what went wrong for Harry Kewell’s side who hadn’t lost in their previous six home games.
Here are five things we learnt.
Play-off hopes all but over
After a run of eight wins from their first ten games in 2018, there was growing optimism that Crawley could mount a serious challenge for the play-offs.
A 3-1 win over Lincoln City saw them move up to ninth place, two points short of seventh, and earn their fifth consecutive home win for the first time in their Football League history.
However, they are now without a win in the five games since then and sit 13th in the league and ten points behind seventh-placed Mansfield Town.
This may not be the worst thing in the world for Crawley, who still have a lot of improvements to make.
Going up this season may do 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, they have a solid basis to build on next season and aim for a higher division.
Usual watertight defence showing frailties
For much of the season, the defensive side of Crawley’s game has been their best characteristic with a common back five keeping even the best attackers of the league at bay.
However, in recent weeks, since switching to a back-four which has seen a ever-changing centre-back partnerships, the Reds look less solid at the back.
All of Wycombe’s goals midweek came from crosses which Crawley’s usual-reliable defence were unable to deal with. Adebayo Akinfenwa’s overwhelming strength presence is well documented and was noted by Kewell before kick-off, but few know how to contain the striker who made the difference with a goal and an assist to condemn Crawley to only their first defeat in seven home games.
Cedric Evina and Joe McNerney debutised in the absence of the injured Josh Doherty and the suspended Josh Yorwerth against Wycombe, whose absences may have unsettled a consistent defensive line. McNerney remained in the side on Saturday, standing in this time for the suspended Connolly.
With the return of Yorwerth on Saturday, fans would have hoped for a stronger defensive display but in some ways it was even worse. Not only did they concede twice in the opening 12 minutes, but their overall sloppiness left Cheltenham out of sight with a third goal before half-time and yet another mistake led to the fourth.
Casual misplaced passes and poor decision-making was their downfall, and if it wasn’t for at least three superb saves by Glenn Morris, Crawley could have been at least five down at the break. Kewell admitted that the goals conceded were a ‘joke’ defensively and claimed they made their 15th placed opponents ‘look good.’
Going into the game against Cheltenham, Crawley had conceded 13 goals in the previous six games which is as many in the 12 games prior to that.
A further five goals against them on Saturday does nothing to improve that stat, and means that they have conceded eight goals in a week.
Ahearne-Grant the next big thing
On a more positive note, this man just can’t stop scoring. Crawley have found a gem of a player in Karlan Ahearne-Grant and they must surely be desperate to extend his loan deal or even make the deal permanent. However, if his current form is anything to go by, Charlton would be out of their minds to let him leave.
Ahearne-Grant is the Reds’ joint-second leading goalscorer this season, despite playing for just under 800 minutes since his January arrival, compared to his nearest competitors Jimmy Smith and Enzio Boldewijn, who have scored eight and nine goals respectively from over 2600 minutes worth of playing time.
His pace, trickery and strength appear a nightmare for defenders to deal with and he is ice cold in front of goal, as shown by his eight goals in nine games.
Remarkable fighting spirit
This has been a common theme all season and something surely instilled by the boss. Even after going 3-1 down against Wycombe, Crawley never gave up and that was epitomised by Panutche Camara whose deserved goal got the Reds back into the game. However, wIth an equaliser on the cards, Crawley’s momentum was stifled by the red card and mass brawl seen after Mark Connolly’s second yellow card for a crunching tackle.
Similarly, even at 5-1 down on Saturday, the Reds never gave up and looked for a way back in. No-one would blame them if they opted for damage limitation in the second half, but Kewell made an attacking change in Roberts for Evina. They posed an attacking threat and deserved to reduce the deficit as a result.
Camara’s second league goal in as many games gave the home supporters something to celebrate, whilst his shot also led to Young’s tap-in for the hosts’ third. He has certainly taken his rare chance to impress the manager.
Kewell let down by ‘embarrassing’ official decisions
Kewell complained about the ‘embarrassing’ number of free-kicks given against Crawley on Wednesday, whilst Ahearne-Grant also claimed a number of decisions ‘went against them.’ However, this feeling that they were hard done by only intensified against Cheltenham, where they found themselves 3-0 down at half-time.
The second goal was hugely controversial with Reds players and fans arguing Crawley that Mohamed Eisa intercepted the ball using his arm, before being fouled by Josh Yorwerth as he was about to pull the trigger.
The fans were left enraged by the decision, with many directing abuse towards the officials throughout the game and loudly booed them as they the field at half- time.
In sarcastic fashion, Kewell praised Eisa’s ‘amazing talent to be able to control it on his chest,’ expressing his discontent at the decisions going against them in recent weeks.