Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 14th; W 16 / D 11 / L 19 / F 58 / A 66 / Pts 59
Most pundits predicted a season of struggle for the Red Devils, especially after Harry Kewell was appointed. Their start to the campaign was certainly slow; only three wins were accrued until mid-November. Fortunes started to take an upturn heading into Christmas, and the winter months were especially fruitful for the Australian’s charges, a single defeat sandwiching a run of seven wins on the spin in the league. Crawley consistently found the net in the final months, but those victories were once again very difficult to come by. That said, they had confounded their critics by achieving a comfortable mid-table finish.
Top Goalscorer: Jimmy Smith (10 goals in 36 starts/3,130 minutes)
Top Creator: Jimmy Smith (8 assists in 36 starts/3,130 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Harry Kewell; the former left-winger needs little introduction. He burst onto the scene at Leeds United at just 17, and in the same year, made his senior national team debut for the Socceroos. At the Yorkshire giants, he was an instrumental figure in their surge to the Champions League semi-finals in 2000/2001, getting one step further (and lifting the trophy) with Liverpool four years later. Both stints ended acrimoniously, not helped by several long injury lay-offs. He recaptured some of his earlier career form at Galatasaray, before moving to Australia and playing for both the Melbourne teams.
As a coach, he studied for his UEFA licences whilst still Down Under, and, upon completion, took the reins at Watford U23s. Two years later, he surprisingly became manager of Crawley, becoming the first Australian to lead a pro English team in the process. That he is still present at the helm now is testament to a good start to his life in the dugout.
Ins: George Francomb (AFC Wimbledon), Ashley Nathaniel-George (Hendon), Brian Galach (Aldershot), Ollie Palmer (Lincoln City), Dominic Poleon (Bradford City) & Reece Grego-Cox (Queens Park Rangers).
Outs: Kaby (free agent), Josh Lelan (free agent), Jordan Roberts (Ipswich Town), Moussa Sanoh (Poli Iasi), Billy Clifford (free agent), Josh Yorwerth (Peterborough United), Enzio Boldewijn (Notts County), Dean Cox (free agent) & Aryan Tajbakhsh (free agent).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: With only 17 players in the senior squad at the time of writing, the defence almost pick themselves. Glenn Morris is an experienced custodian, and doesn’t tend to take too many risks when crosses are played into his penalty area. Ahead of him, both Mark Connolly and Joe McNerney are imposing in the air; the latter is especially commanding, but both are susceptible to balls being played in behind them. On the left, Josh Doherty is a good alternate choice for taking penalties. He’s more inclined than Lewis Young on the right to stay back and help his team-mates repel counters.
The younger brother of World Cup semi-finalist Ashley, he, like his brother, has moved further down the pitch as the years have gone by, and his recent contract extension was greeted warmly by the Broadfield Stadium faithful. He still possesses plenty of pace, is an accurate crosser, and is even adept with long throws, proving that he is far from predictable to play against.
In midfield, Josh Payne also has a few strings to his bow. His height and aerial ability help him to win most hopeful punts from the opposition to their target man. Added to that, he likes to create from deep, playing long, vertical passes to the front four. In dead ball situations, he’s the specialist, normally opting for precision over power when in range. He will be partnered by Daniel Bulman, although at 39, it remains to be seen whether he can be a mainstay in the XI for the majority of 2018/2019. Not short of stamina and unafraid to get stuck in, he’s likely to play just ahead of Payne and is happy to drop off to form a double pivot.
Captain and all-round goal-getter Jimmy Smith will probably be tasked once more with being the main creative outlet in the lineup. He has no particular weaknesses to his game and has a good knack at timing his runs into the area, where he can prove more than a handful in the air. On the left should be Dominic Poleon. It’s safe to suggest his spell at Bradford City didn’t work out for any of the parties involved, with half of his appearances coming from the subs’ bench. Nevertheless, at just 24, he has time on his side to prove that his time at Valley Parade was just a blip. He is at his best when asked to press his full-back high up the pitch, or when he can run onto ground passes played five to ten yards in front of him. He probably won’t be busting a gut to track back, however, as he is much more comfortable facing away from his goal than returning to it.
George Francomb is another astute signing by Kewell. He’ll give Crawley another option from set pieces, and his versatility could be key if the roster stays lean. Up top, target man Ollie Palmer might get the nod. As well as being the obvious outlet to relieve pressure on the defence, he also likes to drop off the front line to drag his marker with him and out of position, which will leave gaps for the likes of Poleon and Smith to exploit. He was mainly used as a battering ram by Lincoln City, and weighed in with eight goals and more than his fair share of yellow cards for his troubles. Far from slow, he will give the setup more tactical flexibility.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Safe but sorry. That prediction should not be seen as an indictment by any stretch of the imagination, but as I said earlier, the depth is wafer-thin and not even enough to fill the bench at present. That will need to be rectified soon, and then it might take a little while for the new recruits to bed in. Losing Enzio Boldewijn to a divisional rival was a blow, but Kewell has dipped into the market smartly thus far, lowering the age profile of the senior side in the process. Poleon and Palmer could be a ‘partnership’ to look out for in the division, and the midfield looks solid enough. The openness of the division might just push them down slightly from their finish last term, however.