Broadfield Stadium back again. For the third Tuesday on the trot there is a Crawley Town home game. Last Tuesday saw our first league goals of the season in a heart-breaking injury time loss to Northampton Town, but the week before saw us beat League One Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup. Our only win of the season so far. And it is back to Carabao Cup action this evening, as we play Premier League Fulham.
We don’t know what kind of side they are going to put out for the game, but the respective form and the league position would suggest it is going to be a difficult game for Crawley. Fulham are unbeaten after the first three games of the season, with a win and two draws, whereas we have the single point from five games. Although it may be worth pointing out that we did win our last game against Premier League opposition – a 3-0 win against Leeds United in the FA Cup in 2021.
It is going to be our first ever competitive game against Fulham. We have played them three times in friendlies, pre-season in 2015, when we lost 3-1, and again in 2018 which was a 4-2 loss, and a random one in December 1969 which we lost 1-0. We had played their ‘A’ side in the 50’s as well. Our under-pressure manager, Kevin Betsy played for Fulham from 2002-2006, and later worked as a coach for their youth teams.
Tickets for the game were selling like hot cakes and it was said to be a sell-out, but it remains to be seen how that will actually pan out, as there were a lot of murmurings of discontent during the last league game on Saturday in a disappointing defeat (not just in the result, but in the manner of it). Three of the additional tickets sold were to some of our neighbours, and therefore there were five of us heading to the ground with it being cloudy but warm.
We were there is plenty of time, and I got a programme, the other four went into Redz bar, only for them to miss the first ten minutes of the game. I only just made it in in time for kick off, the queues to get through the two turnstiles was madness, and it took me twenty-five minutes to get through the queue. Plenty of time to have a decent look at the programme, a much-improved edition with none of the obvious errors that have littered the last couple of issues. If the club want big crowds, they really need to do something about having the whole of the East stand only being able to enter through two turnstiles. They should be doubling that at least. A lot of people missed the kick off, and I was surprised it wasn’t put back ten minutes.
I got to my seat to find people in it. A family of four had been given online tickets with the same seat numbers as out physical tickets. They eventually got seats in the area in a couple of twos instead. Not sure how the club had managed to sell the seats twice though.
Fulham were in their usual white shirts and black shorts, and although they had made a lot of changes from the team that had won at the weekend, there were still a lot of players with Premier League experience.
Crawley came out with a point to prove after the dismal performance at the weekend, and the early pressure came from us. A lot of nice play early on, shots on target, and a couple of corners. And in the 16th minute the pressure payed off, a ball is slotted through to Tom Nichols in the box and he puts it away for a 1-0 lead. Cue bedlam. The whole of the East Stand is literally bouncing, and the noise drowns out the attempted announcement of the scorer, to the extent they had to try a second time after the noise had died down a bit.
And it brought out the exuberant taunting chants. “Premier league, you’re having a laugh”, and “Can we play you every week?” I’m not sure about the second one, it would be more a case of why we can’t play like this every week. And starting on the taunting that early hasn’t been the best for us in the past.
The pressure continues, a lot of the game is being played in the Fulham half, even if a fair chunk of it is them passing the ball across the back. On twenty-six minutes ball one manages to creep its way over the East Stand, and a couple of minutes later Fulham get a free kick in our ‘D’, and unlike the last two games the free kick is defended by the wall and cleared away, but is the start of a bit of Fulham pressure.
I wrote in my notebook that the ref was letting a lot go on both sides and we were being treated fairly. Well, a couple of penalty shouts are waved away, the second one looked nailed on, so perhaps I spoke (wrote) too soon. But it is Fulham who are cracking and giving the ball away at the back, we have another shot on goal which Fulham just about manage to scramble away.
Four minutes of first half injury time are signalled, and with it comes another Crawley shot on target. In the last seconds of the half, ball two is hoofed over the West Stand, and the whistle goes on what, without a doubt, has been the best half of football Crawley have played all season.
And yet from that we are back into the same old boring playlist. I really don’t know where they dug up the horrific version of “Just Can’t Get Enough”, but Andy Fletcher could generate electricity with how much he must be spinning in his grave. Kevin Betsy must have been happier as the post half time tradition of coming out a couple of minutes after the away side is back in full effect.
Four minutes into the second half and we are in dreamland. More pressing sees some good work, and Tom Nichols slides the ball to James Balagizi, and he slots it into the bottom corner, and it is 2-0. Which brings out a red smoke bomb from the Eden Utilities terraces.
Some back and forth follows, a bit of Fulham pressure, before it is back to Crawley pressure. It is a good game now. What is creeping in are a few ‘injuries’. There may well be a bumper crop of injury time to be added on. And as soon as I write that, we pick up a booking for time wasting.
We get a free kick on the edge of the area, and another shot on target, and a corner. Then a breakaway, Ashley Nadesan skins the defender near the half way line, and is in on the keeper, but the defender gets back and does enough to put him off and the shot goes high and wide.
With six minutes of normal time to go the Fulham fans are beginning to leave in numbers and so the additional chants of “Is there a fire drill?” and “We can see you sneaking out” come out. More Crawley players are down with ‘injuries.’
The crowd is announced as being 5,577 with 1,338 away fans, about 300 off our record crowd. Tom Nichols is announced as the sponsor’s man of the match. Seven minutes of injury time are indicated, and a further announcement comes out asking the fans to stay off the pitch at full time.
Three minutes into added time Fulham get their first shot on target and follow it up with another effort that hits the bar (something I’m sure a lot of Crawley fans will be doing after the game) before being scrambled away.
The full-time whistle goes, and a 2-0 victory is complete over Premier League opposition. Cue the moron invasion. Hundreds and hundreds of idiot ‘fans’ invade the pitch. Both the Football League and FA have promised clampdowns on pitch invasions this season after the violence against (and by) players at the end of last season, with large fines, and supposed life bans for ‘supporters’ entering the field of play. We now need to wait to see what punishments will be coming.
Hundreds of kids (and a few adults) doing knee slides multiple times all over the pitch won’t help the ground staff keep the playing surface in great condition. FFS, it’s the second round of the Carabao Cup for crying out loud, not anything important. And Kevin Betsy isn’t helping matters, instead of trying to clear the pitch, he’s grinning and mooning like a loon and encouraging them by having photos and selfies taken with the interlopers.
We were the main story on the BBC Sport website after the game, but with pictures of the pitch invasion, so getting good and bad coverage at the same time.
Time to see who we get in the draw tomorrow night. And more importantly, take this performance and replicate at the weekend in the league. We are away at Rochdale, the only team below us in the league, let’s get that first league win of the season and start a climb up the table. We can play well, but let’s do it in the league now, and forget all about the cup until November.