Whatever happens at the Broadfield Stadium, as well as at Gresty Road and the Priestfield Stadium, this fixture against Crawley has to end a period of failure that stretches back nearly 18 months. Out-thought and outfought, we have been one the receiving end of too many ‘hard luck’ stories for it to be put down to luck. We simply have not been good enough as a team to even reach the par level for Coventry City. Win, lose or draw, this cannot go on for any longer.
Facing a Crawley Town side who know that only a win will probably be good enough for them to survive, this current group of players can either stake a claim for their place in the new Coventry City or find someone else to tolerate their inadequacies. Knowing that a point, or even a defeat, could still keep us up makes for a worrying scenario where we get stung by a team who have to go for broke and results go against us. We have to assume that we won’t get any favours from Gillingham or Bradford and make sure we get the job done here.
A concern for many over this anxious week has been Tony Mowbray’s clear indication that he will set the team up not to take any risks. Whilst you always want to see your team go for the win, it was that kind of attacking intent against Crewe that cost us the result. Given the amount of times we have seen teams play cautious football against us at the Ricoh Arena and get results, perhaps Crawley could play into our hands if we can cut out the defensive errors and hurt them on the counter.
It’s a big if though considering the players available for selection. Matthew Pennington will miss this game after picking up an injury, I have always felt that he is susceptible to making errors when under pressure but his likely replacement Aaron Martin is equally capable and much less mobile. Mowbray has set out just what exactly Martin needs to do and his recent performance against Peterborough has showed that he is perfectly capable of going through games without making silly errors.
Ideally we should have some pace out wide and with Blair Turgott in form in the under-21s, this is the perfect time to unleash him as an unknown quantity. It seems like Mowbray has issues with Turgott’s personality and approach to his profession but given Barton’s poor performance against Crewe and Sanmi Odelusi failing to replicate some promising early form, Mowbray might not be able to afford being so picky.
Marcus Tudgay is back in attack and it may allow Mowbray to finally drop Frank Nouble. That Nouble has completely lost his form in the crucial phase of the season, is probably a sign that he does not have the mental edge to take advantage of his natural skill and physicality. We needed him to step up over the past month and he has let the club and himself down, big time.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Burge; Willis, Martin, Johnson, Stokes; Barton, Ward, Fleck, O’Brien; Tudgay, Proschwitz.
Last Time We Met
Had we seen the job through after going 2-0 up against Crawley at the Ricoh Arena back in October, we would not have been in this mess and it may have reversed one of our poorest runs of the season. Crawley were, without a shadow of doubt, the worst team in League One to visit us and it is a testament to both John Gregory and Dean Saunders that they are not already down.
To give you an indication of how poor they were, both Simeon Jackson and Josh McQuoid scored to give us a healthy lead. The talented Welsh winger Gwion Edwards curled in a spectacular effort to pull a goal back. Crawley’s equaliser came from a punt up field by Dean Leacock who fell on his backside in the process. Jordan Willis was muscled off the ball and the rest of the defence somehow conspired to allow Izale McLeod to level. The lack of urgency afterwards to try and go for the win was shocking and was a bad omen for the rest of our season.
How Are They Doing?
Crawley’s team was thrown together almost at random by John Gregory in the summer. Largely it was a combination of League 2 standard journeymen and trialists from non-league but in winger Gwion Edwards and striker Izale McLeod there was some cutting edge in the final third. Under Gregory, Crawley picked up a few early wins based on some dogged defending and Izale McLeod scoring from the penalty spot.
That early form dipped quickly but despite a limited squad, John Gregory did well to keep them out of the bottom four until his mid-season departure to undergo a heart operation. Dean Saunders, reputations burnished by being the man who relegated Wolves from the Championship, came in and has brought in a siege mentality at Crawley which has given them something to play for heading into the final weekend.
The framework of solid defending set by John Gregory has been kept but thanks to some excellent work in the loan and free agent market, Dean Saunders has added some quality to Crawley’s team which makes them dangerous, particularly from set-pieces. Fortunately in that regard, set-piece taker Anthony Wordsworth is unavailable after the end of his loan spell.
Of those two key players referred to earlier, Gwion Edwards and Izale McLeod, only one has remained a staple under Dean Saunders. It has been 20-goal man McLeod who has been crucial in keeping Crawley in touch of safety going into this key game. Edwards has been more peripheral but offers them some craft out wide coming off the bench.
Crawley possess two brothers of Manchester United’s icons of the past few years in Lewis (brother of Ashley) Young and Mathias (brother of Paul) Pogba. Young has been converted to a full-back in recent months and has done surprisingly well, much like his brother. Pogba has arrived mid-season after a failed spell in Italy with Pescara. Pogba is a physical centre-forward with pace and offers Crawley a threat on the counter-attack.
Another story from the Crawley squad is that of ex-Sky Blue Lee Fowler who is seizing his final chance in league football with both hands. Fowler began the season with Nuneaton where his quality shone through but he desperately lacked fitness. Fowler has become a key player since joining Crawley, playing as a deep-lying playmaker in front of the back four. Nuneaton have made sure Fowler will be available to potentially relegate the club he came through at, this could be all set up to make Fowler the villain of the piece.
Possible Line-Up: (4-3-3) Jensen; Young, Ward, Bradley, Youga; Fowler, Elliott, Simpson; Pogba, McLeod, Tomlin.
Stretching the remit of this preview further to take in all the final day permutations, I think that both Crewe and Notts County will win their respective games against Bradford and Gillingham. It will be up to us to be the masters of our own destiny and the scenario that I think will happen is that the one of the two teams playing in this fixture will relegate the other. Given the shocking lack of killer instinct that this team has shown throughout the season, it’s not hard to believe that an early goal conceded could really do for us.
Being bold slightly and because I cannot actually face the prospect of League Two football, I am predicting a 0-0 draw.