Crawley have been held to yet another draw in League Two, remaining without a home win since early September, but there were some encouraging signs against Forest Green Rovers. Here are five things we learnt from the thrilling encounter.
Tireless efforts earn first league goal in 512 minutes
Goals have been hard to come by for Harry Kewell and his side this season. Fans had grown increasingly frustrated after three goalless draws in four games, leaving the Reds the lowest scorers in the league.
They have desperately lacked a focal point with wingers often being deployed a strikers in the absence of the departed James Collins and Matt Harrold, as well as injured summer signing Thomas Verheydt.
Despite an excellent performance against then top of the table Luton Town, they couldn’t make the most of several opportunities to deservedly win the game and this has been a regular occurrence throughout the season.
After a very poor first half showing against Forest Green, Crawley came out of the blocks in the second half and looked determined to see an end to their goal drought.
Minutes after the break, substitute Josh Payne hit the bar with a cracking effort making a statement of intent. Even after receiving a sucker punch through an opener by Christian Doidge, they continued to pile on relentless pressure on the Rovers backline, with tireless forwards Jordan Roberts and Enzio Boldewijn a constant threat.
The returning Verheydt’s height was the eventual difference, heading in the much-needed equaliser, but credit must go to the whole team for their reaction to their first half performance and after falling behind.
Reds ride their luck
For much of this season, misfortune has been ever present for Crawley, with them regularly being denied by the woodwork and having big decisions go against them. However, the tables were turned this week and it remains a mystery how the Reds managed to get to half-time without conceding.
Kewell’s backline was repeatedly caught flat footed, presenting clear cut opportunities to the visitors, who struck the woodwork twice in the opening 25 minutes and were thwarted by two brilliant saves by Glenn Morris.
The heroic keeper, however, could have quickly become a villain for his side when he was adjudged to have handled the ball outside his penalty area, late in the first half. Luckily for Morris, the presence of covering defenders led to only a yellow card, but the veteran could have very easily seen red for a rare moment of madness.
Despite an improved second half performance, which saw the Reds have countless chances of their own to win the game, Rovers came inches away from three points in the dying minutes.
They were again denied by the post and then Morris after a frantic goal mouth scramble, seeing an end of an entertaining 90 minutes which Crawley can be grateful for a point.
Verheydt repays Kewell’s faith
After a slow start to life at Crawley, following his move from the Netherlands, a knee injury has kept Verheydt out of action for almost two months. Kewell regularly commented on the fantastic efforts being put in by the Dutchman to return to action, and clearly couldn’t wait for his return.
His work-rate and pace doesn’t match that of fellow forwards Jordan Roberts and Enzio Boldewijn, but he offers a different approach which could pay dividends as the season progresses.
The presence of the 6ft 3 striker could have been what’s missing for the Reds this season and, despite struggling to make an impact for much of the game in his return, he was the eventual difference with the elusive goal.
However, fans will be hoping their targetman will start offering more of a threat, over the whole 90 minutes.
Despite his goal earning the hosts a point, which will only help his confidence, the awarding of man of the match to the striker is questionable. Roberts would have been a worthy nominee with his tireless efforts, while Josh Payne made an excellent impact after replacing Dannie Bulman at half-time.
Despite narrowly escaping from his mistake of handling outside the area, Morris was instrumental in keeping the score line goalless at half-time, winning the majority of the votes on a Twitter fan poll.
Lack of composure in front of goal still evident
In hindsight, it is very easy to criticise players when they miss a chance, but as Kewell quite rightly keeps stressing, it is not easy to score a goal. That being said, Reds fans can only wonder what might have been had Roberts, who was excellent throughout, had pulled the trigger after capitalising on a defensive error in the dying minutes.
The forward was one-on-one with the keeper, who was out of position, and looked for all of the world like he would score a dramatic winner but a shot never came and the retreating defenders closed out the chance.
This missed chance could have been even more costly for Crawley, as it led to a quick counter-attack from the visitors, from which they hit the crossbar yet again and came inches away from a winner after a goalmouth scramble.
In a game of two halves, where both teams had brilliant chances to win it, a draw is probably a justified result but Reds fans will have every right to feel like the win was there for the taking.
Consistency still an issue?
Consistency seems to be a recurring problem for Kewell’s side this season. In games in which they are not expected to win, for example against Luton and Swindon, they have come out firing from the first minute trying everything to pull off a shock result.
This effort and commitment has been rewarded with brilliant results against high-flying teams, but the first half performance against Forest Green suggests that the same can’t be said about their mentality against fellow strugglers.
Despite Rovers coming to the Checkatrade Stadium on the back of an impressive three consecutive league wins, they are a newly-promoted side below the Reds in the table due to earlier bad form.
In stark comparison to how they have started in recent tough games, Crawley looked short of ideas and much weaker defensively than how they have done for much of this season.
They could and probably should have been 3-0 down at the interval, had it been for better finishing from Rovers, who finished third in the National League last season.
Stern things must have been said at half-time by Kewell, who made two substitutions at the break, surely unhappy with how the first 45 minutes had gone.
Reds looked a different side in the second half, and, as goalscorer Verheydt said after the game, they must build on this improved showing and start games on the front-foot.