In the last two months, Crawley’s form has taken a turn for the worse. Good form for the first 3 months of the season had seen the Reds in the play offs, but November heralded a run of poor form which saw the Reds take just 3 points from a possible 24- a shocking run of 8 games without a win lasting up until the 15th of December. Football is a game of fine margins- the slightest deflection can completely change a game, and that game can change the course of a season. Indeed, it was a deflected Dannie Bulman strike which earned Crawley the victory and their first win in 8. Whilst we were beaten 2-0 at home by Sheffield United the next game, a tight game which was decided by two bits of quality from Tony McMahon, snatching a win away at an in from side was a positive sign and it gave the players a bit more belief.
They took that belief into the Boxing Day clash at Portsmouth and we came away with a 2-1 victory, one which we fought hard for and deserved. 2 days later we travelled to Bournemouth and put in a tired display, resulting in a 3-0 defeat. The scoreline was reversed however when Colchester visited the Broadfield Stadium, when goals from Mark Connolly, Billy Clarke and Nicky Adams comfortably saw off the Essex side. So despite this, and sitting 1 point off the play-offs, why has Barker come in for so much criticism?
Some have pointed to his supposedly stubborn habit of not changing tactics (although if Football Manager has taught me anything, it’s that changing tactics constantly is counter-productive), some pointed to his apparent refusal to sign a striker during the loan window, which led me to believe he wanted a permanent option which we now have in Lateef Elford-Aleeyu, and some pointed to simply our poor run.
I think something a lot of football fans lack is perspective and patience. Football isn’t always black and white, and often you hear and see reactionary views and opinions of things which don’t take into account everything. For example, why did we go on this poor run? A lot of people, including myself, believed it was down to not having a goalscorer. Gary Alexander, whose poor form this season has led (unfairly in my opinion) to much derision, was expected to bare the brunt of the goalscoring weight, particularly after scoring 7 in 14 last season for us, but in my opinion his role in the side changed when Barker came in- in pre season he was on fire, but O’Driscoll left and Barker’s set up, whilst not completely different, involved Alexander sacrificing his goal scoring role for more of a work horse role, holding up the ball and bringing others into play, which has interestingly brought the best out of Billy Clarke. Let’s get one thing clear – Alexander is not a bad player. His goalscoring record is good, especially at this level, but he’s not playing in a role which allows him to score. In a goalscoring role, he is a penalty box player, who when the ball comes to him he knows how to put it in the back of the net. But I digress.
In 2007 we nearly went bust. Anyone who’s complaining about us when we’re 8th in League One is, for want of a politer term, an idiot. I’ll admit it was a minority, but the group of ”fans” who started singing ”sacked in the morning” to Barker during the Sheffield United game are also idiots. All it takes is a good run of form, something which we’re capable of, and we could be challenging even the automatic places. Sometimes it would do the negative, Barker bashing Crawley fans the world of good to step back, get some perspective and look at the bigger picture. Because despite the poor form, it’s not all bad.
Far from it. And a win tomorrow against Premiership opposition in the form of relegation strugglers Reading at the 3rd time of asking would be the perfect way to get the boo boys off his back. Not that he should need to of course. Personally I think we have a real chance. The atmosphere, for once, will be fantastic, Reading I believe will rest many of their star players and the players will be well up for it. It will be tight, but I really think we can nick it. Perhaps Gary Alexander will break his goal drought? I’ll go 1-0 Reds. Billy Clarke has made a habit of popping up with winners this season so he’ll do for the goalscorer.
Written by Louie Elmer, We Are Going Up’s Crawley Town blogger
Louie tweets at @LouieElmer