Nothing in the weekend’s League fixtures was more pointless than Crawley Town v Cambridge United, 91st and 90th in League Two.
The previous Saturday, the Glorious Twelfth, was no day for a grouse, of course, but Harry Kewell and Shaun Derry, the respective men in charge, had managed a brace between them after their second defeats running. “Silly mistakes have cost us,” said Kewell. “We’re after a bit of quality in the final third,” said Derry. At Broadfield Stadium on Saturday something had to give.
It gave 1-0 for Cambridge, who found that bit of quality when Jabo Ibehre, described as an impact player, made a mockery of the vigorous effort before and after. Protecting a rib injury sustained in training, he was introduced shortly after half-time, stretched to prod the ball in when Glenn Morris could not hold Uche Ikpeazu’s shot and was back on the bench inside seven minutes with his rib none the better for it. “He was that moment man,” said Derry. “That’s why we bought him.” At 34 Ibehre was signed in May. In two years he had averaged a goal every two games for Carlisle.
Kewell could not blame silly mistakes here so much as the fine margins of football fate. In the first half Mark Randall curled a shot against the bar. In a rousing finish Crawley at last got the best out of their new lighthouse leader of the line, the Dutchman Thomas Verheydt, when one of many willing headers fell for Matt Harrold to spin and volley a cracking shot against a post. Kewell had noted beforehand “we had 13 chances in our last game and we have to be more ruthless”. Now he admitted: “Scoring a goal is one of the hardest things in the game. There is no point in hitting the bar or post.”
Besides their late siege Crawley had, as he said, “dominated the first part of the game” – indeed of both halves – but, having worked themselves into promising positions, mostly through the intelligence and control of another Dutchman, Enzio Boldewijn, they ran out of ideas or conviction.
Inevitably the spotlight fell more on Kewell, in his first senior management role after Watford’s Under-23s, than on Derry, approaching two years at Cambridge. Crawley are in only their seventh season in the League after a period of financial instability that ended with the borough council leasing the stadium to them. Having made it, they moved straight to League One before two lowly finishes in League Two.
In March last year Ziya Eren, a Turkish steel magnate, completed a takeover with ambitions to raise Crawley to the level of Turkey’s Kayseri Erciyesspor, a second division club of which he is president. And this is where Kewell comes in; he spent three years with Galatasaray. Eren is servicing the debts but sometimes juggling the playing staff. Significantly Kewell lost the benefit of James Collins, scorer of 20 league goals last season, sold for an undisclosed fee to Luton in June. There are no Turks in the squad but maybe some turkeys and certainly three Joshes.
Last week Eren addressed the Family, promising “vision, positivity, fine tuning and investment. We need every one of you to make yourselves heard in support of the team.” On Saturday the stadium was less cauldron than cake tin, comfortable amid its stands of hardwood trees and 1,800 supporters.
Kewell looks to be the first Australian to manage a professional English club. As player at Leeds and Liverpool he was more Mark Waugh than Steve. As manager, fashionably bearded, he suggests more of Steve’s steel. “Look,” he said. “No one thought it was going to be easy. It’s frustrating as we’ve done enough in all three games to win. But I’m here for the long haul.”
Derry agreed it was crazy for the third game to be billed as “massive”. Both know the ebbs and flows through 46 games. Cambridge had three points after eight matches last season and eyed a chance of the play-offs going into the last game. More ominously Crawley were fifth on 1 October, in the top half at Christmas and 21st, but safe, after losing their penultimate match at Cambridge. When they go there on 30 March it is unlikely to be a plummet meeting.
• So much for the young managerial thrusters. It is early days yet, of course, but the Championship’s last two 100% records after four matches are held by Cardiff City, who ended Wolves perfect run (at Molineux to boot), and Ipswich in the seasoned hands of Neil Warnock and Mick McCarthy. Warnock’s managerial career, at 68, spans 31 years, 14 jobs and a fair number of retirements. McCarthy, 10 years younger, has been going for 25 years, with four clubs bracketing his spell with the Republic of Ireland. Harry Redknapp returning to the dug-out at 70 in April (with Birmingham City) no doubt makes it harder to give up.
• While Bolton and Millwall are struggling to get a hold in the Championship, Sheffield United who led them up (Bolton by 14 points, Millwall by 27) are sitting comfortably in 10th, above Wednesday. Is there no stopping Chris Wilder? Through Oxford, Northampton and Bramall Lane he has won almost half his matches. It helps, of course, to have an almost unfailing goalscorer. Billy Sharp got 30 in 49 appearances last season. And he scored both the goals that gave them their two 1-0 league wins this month. He seems to have been doing it for ever but is still only 31.
• The shock result in League One was surely at Valley Parade. Bradford City had gone 31 League matches unbeaten there and had maximum points from their two matches this season. Blackburn Rovers had taken none from their two games and cut a collectively forlorn figure the previous weekend in losing at home to Doncaster Rovers. Yet here they were, winning 1-0 before a crowd of 21,403, better than three of the day’s seven Premier League attendances – at Swansea, Burnley and Bournemouth – though less than five in the Championship – at Sunderland, Aston Villa, Wolves, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United. Is the sun finally shining for fans of Villa, Wolves and Forest?
• There was no such brightness at the Ricoh, in the result or attendance. With two wins out of two Coventry had started as if they meant at least to get back to League One even if Sisu were still round their necks. Newport County stopped them in their tracks with a 1-0 win of some distinction. When Michael Flynn took over as manager in March Newport were bottom of League Two with 12 matches to go. They won seven, including necessarily on the last day, to send Hartlepool, who also won, down by two points. They have continued this season unbeaten, with two draws before this win, which followed the birth of Flynn’s second son on Thursday evening. “It’s been a lovely week,” he said, “and I’d like to thank the players for keeping that smile on my face.” There are evidently still not many smiles on the faces of Coventry fans. Saturday’s crowd was smaller than those for all three of the club’s home league fixtures in August last year.
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