A Lot Less Harrowing Against Harrogate

After a standard two week break it is back to home action for Crawley. Last time we were here it wasn’t good. A 5-2 capitulation to Carlisle United saw us stay in the relegation places. Since then we have had two away games; last Saturday away to promotion chasing Northampton Town, where we were holding them at 0-0, they had a player sent off (which looked very soft and made Jack Rolls look as if his surname was a hobby, and he’d be better off at RADA than in the football league), and with a man advantage we managed to concede (albeit a screamer) and lose 1-0. Then it was the rearranged game away to Sutton United on Tuesday night. We were already 1-0 down at half time and proceeded to give away a goal in the first five minutes of the second half after another soporific team talk, then Joel Lynch got sent off for a second yellow, and we conceded a third to lose 3-0.

We are now mired in the relegation places only a point above Rochdale who managed a win, and now three points behind Hartlepool. We do have a couple of games in hand over them, but we can’t buy a point for love nor money at the moment. And we are now nine points behind Gillingham, which would have seemed unthinkable at the turn of the year.

Today’s opponents Harrogate Town are also supposedly relegation rivals. But they also sit nine points ahead of us and are in nineteenth place in the league. We also have two games in hand on them, but they have a much better goal difference, so it really is a must win game for us if we really want to have any chance of getting out of the relegation places.

Helen and I went to the away fixture back in August in the gloriously warm summer. That game came on the back of a good performance against Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup, and there was some optimism of a first league win of the season after 1-0 defeats away to Carlisle United and at home to Leyton Orient (now the league’s top two). But it was a lacklustre performance, helped by an abysmally biased refereeing outing, and we played out a turgid 0-0 for our first point of the season. But it was an indicator of what was to come.

The bright sparks at that game were James Tilley (thankfully back to playing after a long while out injured), and James Balagizi, sadly injured and then recalled from his loan period. Both of them came on as subs. There have been a few departures from the starting eleven that day with Tony Craig, Jake Hessenthaler, Kwesi Appiah, and Tom Nichols all gone. Mazeed Ogumgbo and Brandon Mason may still be with us but are rare sightings (typically Mazeed started today): Corey Addai is like a whack a mole who keeps popping back up when other keepers leave or turn out to be more disastrous than he is. Only Ludwig Francillette, Travis Johnson, an obviously still not fully fit Ashley Nadesan, and inexplicably Jack Powell are regulars from that starting eleven.

After snow and torrential rain during the week, it is a cold and bright day for the game. The home games have aligned with my writing group sessions of late and so it is a case of straight to the ground from writing for me again. Another nice early arrival, picking up a programme (with no major bloopers this time around), and having time for a bit of a chat with our favourite steward Al, before getting through the turnstiles just after they opened at two.

The away support looks sparse, and there is no sign of a fans coach outside the ground. The two games for two pound each has brought quite a few more in than usual, and the odd single seats either side of our two season ticket seats were both filled for the first time since the Fulham game (and then it was us who brought people with us to fill them).

Harrogate are in an all royal blue kit, and so it is a game of an all red kit versus an all blue kit. It’s like table football, or other generic football games of the seventies and eighties when it was always red versus blue.

Crawley start brightly and after some sustained pressure where we have three blocked shots in quick succession the ball comes out to Aramide Oteh who smashes the ball into the bottom corner from outside the box and Crawley lead 1-0.

We have a few more chances with some good pressure just after the goal, but then the game dips into a bit of a morass. Twenty five minutes in we have a free kick from the left wing and Dom Telford looks to be dragged to the ground as he attempts to turn and shoot, but the penalty claims are ignored. But a minute later there is a booking for a Crawley player for a challenge which got the ball on the edge of the Harrogate area.

Meanwhile the Harrogate number ten is going around and committing petty fouls all over the place with impunity, and just gets a friendly warning from the ref for the fifth such foul in the space of less than ten minutes. Seconds later James Tilley gets a booking for a supposed dive. And a few minutes later Jack Powell picks up a booking for a challenge which isn’t as bad as any of the ones by the Harrogate number 10. It’s an absolute joke.

We move in to added time and the ball is played into Ashley Nadesan down the right wing, and he keeps beating players or dummying then out of position and takes the ball to the by line before cutting it back for Aramide Oteh to score his, and Crawley’s second, and we lead 2-0. There is still time for ball number one to be blasted out over the Eden Utilities Stand by Harrogate’s number ten from about forty yards out before the half time whistle.

A 2-0 lead going into the break, and after the promising change of half time music for the last game, it is back to the same old playlist this time out. And Crawley also are back to coming out a couple of minutes after the away team at half time.

The second half starts with a lot of back and forth between the teams. All of which is being done on the far side of the pitch from us. So much so that groups of pigeons are quite happy to come in and be pecking at the grass all down our side of the ground.

Just before the half way point of the half there is good work down the left wing and Tom Fellows crosses. It’s cleared off the toes of Dom Telford and out of the area straight to recent new signing Jordan Mutch who fires it into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 to Crawley.

No, that is not a misprint.

Just after the restart, Jack Powell blasts ball number two out over the West Stand. There is a coming together on the far side touchline, and the Harrogate player is on top of Kellen Gordon and pushing him down, but there is no action taken. There is a breakaway and Ashley Nadesan is a quarter of a yard away from pushing past the Harrogate keeper and being in on an open goal.

Dom Telford is substituted and as he leaves the pitch (very slowly) he passes the captain’s armband over to Jack Powell of all people. Can you believe that there is a more ineffective Captain Jack than Jack Sparrow?

Crawley pick up another booking for a coming together in midfield. Ball three disappears out over the KRL Logistics stand from a wayward shot. At the other end it should have been four, but there is a miskick and then a too soft shot, a corner which ends up as another blocked shot.

The crowd is announced as 3,317 with 109 away fans. I’m surprised the figure isn’t higher as all three of the home stands look fuller than they have been for most games this season. The sponsors man of the match is named as Aramide Oteh, and as this is announced he gets another chance to get his hat trick and another of his shots is blocked.

Finally after another drive by chopping down there is a booking for a Harrogate player. Which is quickly followed by a sending off for them. A straight red for throwing the ball into Ashley Nadesan’s face.

Four minutes of added time are announced as the sending off takes place. In the fifth minute of this added time the ref gives a free kick to Harrogate which should have gone the other way, the ball is played in, it bounces around and gets poked in at the far post and it is 3-1. No clean sheet and no more time to play as the ref blows the final whistle just after the restart.

And the post-match music kicks in, and it isn’t the Black Eyed Peas, but is Status Quo’s “Rocking All Over The World”.

Hartlepool managed a draw against Northampton, Rochdale and Colchester lost, but Gillingham won. We are still nine points behind them, but only a point behind  Hartlepool now with still those two games in hand on them, and we are now six behind both Harrogate and Colchester, plus we are four clear of Rochdale now. A better day all round. On to AFC Wimbledon next week.

Come on you reds.

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