We’re playing the gas, gas, gas. Well, that’s their nickname anyway. It’s a nice late summer’s evening and we are up to play in the Carabao Cup against Bristol Rovers. And after the way we’ve started the season so far, getting some dodgy far eastern energy drinks down us couldn’t possibly make things worse (perhaps they would give us some gas too).
This time last season, Bristol Rovers were in the same division as us, and they did the double over us, 1-0 at their place, and 2-1 against us at home in a rearranged fixture cancelled due to Covid over the Christmas holiday period. But on the plus side, no one got a cigar stubbed out in their eye. They secured their promotion very late on the last day of the season where a highly unlikely 7-0 win against already relegated Scunthorpe saw them sneak into the last of the automatic promotion slots on goal difference.
They lost their season opener against also promoted Forest Green Rovers but came back to win their last game 4-0. Away. So, after our two opening defeats with only a single shot on target in 180 minutes, things are looking promising for this cup tie. We go into the game as the strongest team in the Football League. As we are rock bottom of the table and holding all the others up.
We amble along to the ground passing kitted out fans outside the Downsman and joining a steady flow of fans heading to the ground. We’re there on time, and I get a programme, a little skinny effort, and no league table, so not appearing on the truncated table isn’t an issue. Al was walking around outside having missed the previous game, he was going to be ‘working’ on the Eden Utilities Stand.
Bristol Rovers were in a black kit with green trim, which meant they blended in perfectly against the west stand. At least the same can’t be said about the officials, who have come dressed by Boss. Just not Hugo, more Stabilo yellow highlighters. The sun is low and bright and there is a lot of squinting required before it disappears behind trees.
Crawley have some early pressure, winning a couple of early corners, and even get a shot away. The crowd, although obviously smaller than Saturday seems more up for it, and the drummer is getting involved early doors as well. There is a good flow to the game.
Twenty-one minutes in and the first ball of the season disappears out of the ground. A Bristol Rovers clearance goes out right alongside the west stand. The away team coach may well have a dent in it.
Just after that Bristol Rovers get a two on one breakaway but Francillette managed to get one of his great long Bambi-esque legs in to poke the ball out for a corner.
Then at the other end we put pressure on their keeper, who makes a poor clearance straight to Tom Nichols on the edge of the area, but he almost returns the favour with his shot being straight at the keeper. At least it is a shot on target.
The game is flowing well. We are a lot better than we were on Saturday. I wonder if it is only a coincidence that eight of the ten outfield starters today were regulars from last season. And we are still a bit hairy at the back when trying to play it out. Inviting pressure on and none of them look really comfortable doing it yet.
In three minutes of added time, we get a corner, it comes out to Francomb who plays it back in, and a headed touch on by Francillette goes just wide of the post. 0-0 at half time, but a much better performance.
The same can’t be said of the DJ at half time. Same songs, same order. And the same two-minute difference between the away team and Crawley coming back out from the half time break.
The second half has barely started, and Bristol Rovers have the ball in the net. But it was a blatant trip on Addai as the back line fannyed around with the ball again. It does seem at times that it is more luck than judgement that we don’t concede whilst doing this.
A few minutes later and ball two goes out, a wayward shot from Bristol Rovers flies over the top of the KRL Logistics stand, and not content with wanting to dent the team coach in the first half, they are now aiming for their supporters’ coach.
Just after the hour mark Bristol Rovers have the ball in the net again. And thankfully, yet again, this doesn’t count. Offside this time, and by a fair distance. The cries of ‘you’re shit, aaahhhhh!!!’ are going great guns in the second half, so much so Bristol Rovers join Crawley in playing goal kicks short in the area to reduce the instances.
Halfway through the second half and we break away, Nadesan is in the box and erm… not quite sure, it wasn’t really a shot, nor was it a pass to another player. It just ended up rolling out for a throw next to the corner flag.
But five minutes later a through ball to Nichols sees him in on the keeper. His first effort is saved, but it comes back to him, and he slots it into the empty net. It is our first goal of the season and Crawley lead 1-0.
This lifts the team even more and a few minutes later we are in on goal again. Oteh comes in from the left and has a shot which hits the post and goes out to the right. It is retrieved and put back over to Powell in the middle of the D of the penalty area, but his effort goes over the bar.
Bristol Rovers create a couple of chances, but Crawley keep playing well, and create another chance which falls to Balagizi in an identical place to the earlier Powell effort. This one misses as well, but by more and it becomes ball three out of the ground, over the Eden Utilities Stand.
The crowd is announced as 1,816 with 241 away fans, and the man of the match as chosen by the owners WAGMI is Tom Nichols.
Four minutes of injury time are shown on the board, and most of them are spent in the corners of the pitch holding the ball up and running out time, and the final whistle goes, and Crawley have won and will progress into the second round for the first time since 2019, and only the fourth time ever.
The draw is being held tonight live after the Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland tie.
Anyway, let’s hope we can turn this kind of performance into a more permanent thing and get some league points on Saturday away at Harrogate.