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Friday, 12 December 2014

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Crawley Town (13/12/2014)

After another successful escape from league action and two further advances in domestic cup competitions (what is happening to our club?!), Bristol City return to the main objective just ahead of the busy Christmas period with the first in a series of games many fans have highlighted as ‘very winnable’.

Now, being top and only having lost twice all season, you could say that’s a case of stating the bleedin’ obvious, but when you look at the games; home to Crawley (17th) and Yeovil (23rd), and away to Crewe (bottom) and Gillingham (20th), you understand the sentiment fully.

The fact that only Swindon and Preston – both fully entrenched in the battle for the top and playing good football – have come away from match-ups with City with three points thus far this season suggests City should have a profitable run of things by the time we face promotion rivals Notts County ten days into 2015.

However, football is loved by so many millions for precisely the reason that nothing’s that easy, and to “expect 10 or 12 points” is disrespectful to the teams, managers and clubs involved.  Slip-ups are possible, especially if City’s players view this run as light relief following a tough November which finally saw the unbeaten start to the season end before that quite scintillating victory at London Road last time out in front of the Sky cameras.

Saying that, it does represent a great opportunity to put daylight between ourselves and the chasing pack in a traditionally critical period of games, given the frequency and intesntity of fixtures.

So will City ease up and come a cropper? Well not on the evidence of what I saw on Wednesday night. City had little to concern themselves in a game which the first team could easily have looked at and decided it was a chance to rest their legs, but they simply don’t do that, this team.  The most telling moments of Wednesday for me, aside from again witnessing the brilliant poise and class of Luke Freeman, came in the final few minutes.

Firstly there was Aaron Wilbraham, who as one of the senior pro’s might have expected to be halued off for a rest after the second goal all but secured the game, but as the game approached full-time he was still haranguing the centre-halves of Coventry on the edge of their own area, not giving them a seconds respite and looking as fit as he did in the first minute of August.  Cotterill is clearly either blind to the potential later season impact of playing his main front man so much, or sees enough in his stats and training to have zero concerns about his fitness and stamina. You suspect it’s the latter.

Mark Little then followed a pass all the way to the opposition keeper, forcing him into a pass out to his let-back just shy of the half way line before he was shut down and forced to retreat by…you guessed it, Mark Little.

Throw into the mix the ferocity in which Cotterill himself was bawling at his players even in the final minute of injury time and you start to get a real feeling of why his side are top of the league.

Anyway, onto Saturday and for this week’s Inside Line, Stu Radnedge caught up with The Argus’ Steve Hollis, who covers Crawley for the Sussex-based newspaper.

“If stability is the foundation for a successful team it is no wonder that Crawley are in the wrong half of the League One table. The past 12 months or so have been tumultuous both on and off the field for a club which had known nothing but success for the previous three seasons.

The truth is that Crawley have risen too fast from non-league football to League One and do not have the fan-base or infrastructure to support it. Back-to-back promotions were bankrolled by an anonymous owner in Hong Kong – only known as Paul – and it appears he is unwilling to continue to pour unlimited amounts of money into the club. His waning enthusiasm became apparent when Crawley were put up for sale in March 2013 and belts have steadily been tightened since with no potential buyers coming forward.

The club’s academy was scrapped at the end of last season and all but two of the squad was either released or sold during the summer because Crawley could not afford to keep paying the wages they were on. Manager John Gregory had to bring in virtually a whole new squad and considering most are downgrades on their predecessors it is perhaps a surprise Reds are as high as 17th in the table.

The problem is Gregory has been forced to adopt cautious tactics to grind out the points to keep Crawley out of danger and that has led – only with other factors – to a 30% drop in attendances. That has had a knock-on effect on Gregory’s budget and forced Hong Kong Paul to reluctantly put inject another significant sum just to balance the books.

It is all a bit of a come down for Gregory who made a name for himself by leading Aston Villa to top eight finishes in the Premier League for three seasons in a row between 1998 and 2002. His reputation and enthusiasm made him an instant hit with supporters when he was appointed in place of the dour Richie Barker last December but that has begun to wane in recent months.

You would not believe from the feelings of some fans that Crawley will arrive at Ashton Gate on the back of a six game unbeaten run in League One. The problem is that the last five of those games have all been draws and they were also knocked out of the FA Cup and JP Trophy in that time.

A relegation battle rather than a play-off push looks the most likely prospect in the New Year especially if Crawley are unable to hold on to their two most saleable assets when the transfer window reopens in January. Joe Walsh and Gwion Edwards were both called up by Wales back in October and it would be surprising if a bigger League One club or Championship outfit did not swoop for them next month. Edwards has been Crawley’s most exciting player this season and is second top scorer behind Izale McLeod but unfortunately will be missing for the game at Ashton Gate after undergoing a hernia operation. Walsh has taken over the captain’s armband from previous skipper Josh Simpson who was unceremoniously slapped on the transfer list by Gregory along with four other players three weeks ago.

Apart from those two and McLeod’s goals there has been little for Crawley fans to get excited about this season. Lanre Oyebanjo has shown the fight and determination supporters love when the going gets tough while Dean Leacock has been a steady influence at the heart of the defence. 

One face the Bristol City fans will be looking forward to seeing again is midfielder Marvin Elliott who left Ashton Gate after seven years in the summer. The Jamaica international joined Crawley on a short-term deal in September which runs out after the weekend. Injury has blighted his time in West Sussex but it would be fitting if he signed off with a goal against his former club.”

My thanks to Stu and Steve for this insight, and let’s hope we keep a close eye on ol’ 50p head Marvin Elliott, Elliott, Marvin Elliott tomorrow – sometimes it hits the right angle!


The Exiled Robin

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