A Stag Do

It has been three weeks since we’ve last been at a home game, the disappointing loss to Stevenage (who now top the table). It’s been eventful since then.

The week after came a 3-0 loss away to Grimsby Town. I had considered going to that game and had scoped out travel times for trains and hotels for overnight stays as there wasn’t much to do with Helen being away, but I decided against it. It was a wise decision by the look of things, as another poor result saw us ending up as the strongest team in the football league – bottom – holding all the other teams up. And it saw Kevin Betsy being sacked. Something for which there had been a fair amount of clamouring for on the forums.

Last weekend saw a home game against Newport County. Another team that had recently parted ways with their manager after they had lost to the then bottom team – Rochdale. We were going to miss this game as we were away up north visiting relatives. During the game we were at a seventieth birthday afternoon tea in North Wales, and it was with trepidation that I was checking the score at regular intervals. For the second week on the trot Newport County lost to the team who were bottom of the league, and Crawley recorded only their second league win of the season in thirteen games. And with it, we crawled off of the bottom of the table and into twenty-third place on goal difference (and only goal difference behind being out of the relegation zone as well). It could have been better, but two of the other bottom four sides also won.

The Monday night saw the draw for the first round of the FA Cup. We get a home draw against Accrington of league one. A bit of a nothing draw really. I was secretly hoping for an away draw against Coalville who had knocked out Notts County in the fourth qualifying round. It would have been a good opportunity to see some old friends and do a bit of memory collection photography up in Leicestershire. As yet the time and date for the game hasn’t been fixed, let alone tickets being available.

Then on Tuesday we had the final Papa Johns Trophy group game against Aston Villa U21s. Again, a game we missed as we were now in Morecambe visiting my mum. My friend Liam is a Villa fan and so went to the game, I haven’t had the chance to ask if he enjoyed it yet. And as with the other Tuesday night home cup games this year, it was another win, with Crawley winning 5-2. This put us second in the group. But qualification for the knockout stages hasn’t been sorted yet. For some reason known only to the football league, the last game in the group, AFC Wimbledon vs Portsmouth, isn’t being played until the 1st of November. And we find ourselves of being in the bizarre position of wanting the wombles to win if we are to progress to the knockout games.

Before today’s game it is difficult to tell whether the upturn in results following Kevin Betsy’s departure is down to that new/interim manager bounce, or the fact that we are jinxes and with us not being in attendance there have been victories. Or maybe there is a bit of both involved.

Lewis Young is in as interim manager for the second time this year as the search for a new manager goes on. A lot of names have been mentioned, with the latest favourite being Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. I don’t mind who really, as long as it settles down the team and the fans and we start winning more than we lose.

Anyway, today we are playing Mansfield Town, a team that have been one of the pre-season favourites to get promoted every year for the last five or six years. They come into today’s game in fourth place in the league, a point outside the automatic promotion spots with a game in hand on the team above them and having won four and drawn two of their last six games. Nineteen places and seventeen points above us in the table. And probably a much stiffer test for us than the two other games since Kevin Betsy’s departure.

I’ve been to a couple of games at Mansfield. They were close to where I was living during an ill-fated four-month residence in the southern most part of South Yorkshire. They weren’t very good at the time, and the ground was grim then, but it was still better than being at home.

We have a nice lazy morning before heading to the game. The weather changes half a dozen times during the morning and it’s difficult to know whether sunglasses or raincoat is going to be the most appropriate attire. I get there early enough to get a programme, and to get into the shop to see if I can get programmes for the last two games I’ve missed. I got the one for the Newport County game (the first question on the Newport County quiz was when were Stevenage formed, so the editorial quality is still somewhat lacking), but it would appear that there wasn’t a programme for the Papa Johns Trophy game against Aston Villa.

Al was wandering about as usual and was on duty in the east stand, and even did something useful as he got involved throwing the ball back into play during the second half. There is scaffolding up in all four corners of the ground and in the middle of the roof of the away terrace, which means Brighton Ladies are getting televised tomorrow.

They were watering the pitch when we arrived, which I’m not sure they needed to after the torrential downpours over the last couple of days. That and the fact you could see the oval laps of footprints in the turf from where warmup exercises had been taking place. And there were some decent pre-match tunes being played as well.

Mansfield were wearing their traditional home kit of yellow shirt with blue sleeves, blue shorts, and yellow socks. But it was a much darker shade of yellow to the one I remember from when I went to a couple of their games.

There is a chance in the first minute, Crawley are in the box, but there are passes instead of a shot, and a player goes down, but lame penalty claims are waved away. Thirty seconds later the ball is played back in and Ashley Nadesan scores to make it 1-0, and with only eighty-eight minutes to hold out.

Seven minutes in and Ludwig Francillette balloons a clearance out over the east stand for the one and only ball to leave the ground in the whole match. Just under quarter of an hour in, we get a free kick in the Mansfield half, Jack Powell swings a free kick in, and it is headed in by Tom Nichols to make it 2-0. (It was Powell’s only decent ball in all game, one that actually avoided the first defender for a change.)

Two minutes later and a long throw from the far side of the pitch goes into our penalty area and hits an outstretched arm and a penalty is given against us. The players aren’t happy and considering the push in the back the defender got before the handball I’m not surprised. The keeper is sent the wrong way from the spot kick, and it is 2-1.

Coming up to the half hour mark, and after some decent Crawley pressure, Mansfield attack down the right wing and a cross is put in, and an unmarked striker is there in the middle of the box to head in from about six yards out and it is 2-2.

From the kick-off we attempt a shot on goal which goes just wide. The ball comes back out from the goal kick and a free kick is given away just outside the D. Thankfully the wall did its job, and the ball is cleared.

There were a couple of stoppages during the half, so it wasn’t any surprise to see six minutes of injury time added on at the end of the half. Nothing much happened in it, and the half time whistle went with it all even.

Half time was the usual shit show of the same music as it ever is and Crawley coming out late.

However, the second half started in a very similar fashion to the first, there is an early attack, and Ashley Nadesan is played through by Tom Nichols, he turns the defender inside out (so much so the defender had to be substituted straight afterwards), and sends the keeper the wrong way and it’s 3-2, with only forty four minutes to hold out this time.

There is another good chance for Tom Nichols just a few minutes later, but it was well saved. The second half continued flowing from end to end, but there were a couple of injuries, lots of substitutions, and some phantom additions for so called time wasting, there ended up being another eight minutes of injury time.

The attendance was announced as being 2,802 with three hundred odd away fans (the exact number was drowned out by a combination of fan noise and piss poor speakers), and the sponsor’s man of the match was Ashley Nadesan.

There was a blatant dive in the penalty area from a Mansfield player, but the game carried on (with no booking). We had two breakaway attacks, both using the speed of substitute Jayden Davis, the first one ended up with him being caught in two minds of whether to shoot (by far the best option), or to pass it to Tom Nichols. It ended up being neither. The second should have been an easy pass through to Tom Nichols, but the final ball was a bit weak, and it was cut out. It was very nervy, but Crawley held out and the final whistle went with us claiming a 3-2 victory.

Oh, is that the Black Eyed Peas I can hear? Not for long as the cheering fans drowned most of it out. The win saw us move up two places in the league to twenty first, behind twentieth on goal difference.

Meanwhile, the ref was a cunt. Four times he gave free kicks to Mansfield after their players had clattered into Crawley players putting them down injured. If a Mansfield player pushed one of ours nothing was given. If we nudged one of their players, it was a free kick. We picked up three bookings for innocuous challenges. They got no booking for kicking Tom Fellows in the head (which caused a gash that needed gluing). There was no free kick given for a two footed lunge which took the ball and Aramide Oteh out. The keeper David Robson got a booking for timewasting after a Mansfield fan threw the ball at him with force and it bounced back off him. The bias against Crawley just continues.

But it was good to get back into the usual post-match routine of a curry at the Downsman on the way home.

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