Despite a largely improved performance, Crawley failed to win for the seventh successive game as a late Marc Richards header cancelled out Jimmy Smith’s first half volley to earn play-off chasing Swindon a 1-1 draw.
Here are five things we learnt from the Reds’ performance in front of the biggest crowd the club has seen in three years.
Improved Crawley deserved more
There was no doubt about it, Crawley were much improved from last week’s two heavy defeats against Cheltenham and Cambridge.
Not only did they concede just the one goal this time around, but they looked far more composed in their play, cutting out the huge number of individual errors which have cost them of late. Following the game, Harry Kewell said it was one of Crawley’s best performances of the season, despite the late equaliser.
In terms of improved individual performances, Josh Yorwerth responded well to criticism from Kewell following the 5-3 defeat to Cheltenham with one of this best displays of the season, which deserved a clean sheet.
Full-back Aryan Tajbakhsh, whose performances are often condemned by supporters, was handed a rare start in the absence of the injured Cedric Evina (knee) and Josh Doherty (hand), and put in probably his best performance in a Reds shirt. Albeit a few misplaced passes, he looked calm defensively and posed a threat going forward and may just have won a few fans over.
Made to pay for missed chances...again
All too often this season, the Reds can only blame themselves for not taking all three points. Against Swindon, they had more than enough chances to make the scoreline comfortable.
In two stand-out second half moments, which turned out to be significant turning points, Mark Randall and Karlan Ahearne-Grant both found themselves in acres of space to test the ‘keeper, but failed to beat the woodwork and ‘keeper respectively.
Five minutes after the break, Randall was found just inside the area by an Enzio Boldewijn cut-back after a defensive error, but after taking a couple of seconds to set himself, he struck a curling effort against the post, to the despair to the home crowd who were just waiting to celebrate a second goal.
No more than 15 minutes later, the lively Ahearne-Grant demonstrated tremendous perseverance and desire to steal the ball off full-back Kyle Knoyle but his quickly-taken strike was saved by the legs of Stuart Moore, when he had an unmarked Boldewijn just waiting for a square-ball.
If it wasn’t for an unstoppable first half volley by Jimmy Smith, Kewell’s side may have suffered from deja vu from the early games this season when they couldn’t take their chances and reward their good performances with a goal.
Defence re-solidified with Connolly and Yorwerth back at heart
Prior to Monday’s game, Crawley had conceded 13 goals in the previous four games. In this time, three different centre-back partnerships were deployed due to injuries and suspensions to regular centre-halves Mark Connolly and Josh Yorwerth.
Connolly and Yorwerth started together for 17 out of the 18 games prior to the 2-2 draw at Carlisle, with the one exception coming in the 4-1 defeat to high-flying Luton.
In those 17 games, the Reds won 11 times and drew twice. This means they only lost four games with a consistent pairing at the back, whilst conceding 19 goals.
Monday saw the pair reunited at the back at home for the first time since early March, and it almost correlated with Crawley’s first clean sheet since the 10th February.
Both players made vital blocks in the opening five minutes, including a goalline clearance, and proceeded to look confident and assured throughout the match. One standout moment was when Yorwerth matched Kaiyne Woolery for pace before brilliantly sliding in to deny the striker a clear-cut opportunity.
However, their excellent efforts were not rewarded, as the hosts were denied the three points by a late equaliser. It’s a credit to the defence that they withstood the pressure that came their way until the 85th minute.
It isn’t often that a central midfielder is a club’s joint-highest goalscorer with just five games to go, but nine goals puts Jimmy Smith level with Boldewijn, and one ahead of free-scoring Ahearne-Grant, albeit a January addition.
When fit, the 31-year-old former Chelsea youth product has started every game for Harry Kewell this season and must be one of the first names on the team-sheet. His commanding display and sensational volley earned himself the man of the match award against Swindon on Monday.
His passion and determination is stark, with one moment standing out in my mind, at 1-0, when he ran the width of the pitch to break up a dangerous counter-attack - much to the delight of the home crowd whose applause expressed their appreciation.
Smith has expressed his desire to get to double figures this season which he looks well on course to do for the first time in his career.
Sell out crowd spurs Crawley on
“It helps us massively when this place is packed. It gives that extra buzz for the lads, as when we are tired we can hear them singing and go that extra mile for them.”
Those were the comments of Smith in his post-match interview, expressing his belief that the huge home support played a big part in their improved display and his goal in particular. 5,008 fans watched the action at the Checkatrade Stadium, due to the club’s ‘Pay What You Can’ initiative, which allowed entry for as little as one pound and resulted in an incredible atmosphere.
This very nearly spurred them on to a first win in seven league games, and few would disagree that the Reds were the better side and were very unlucky not to reward the 3,631 home fans with all three points.
The hope will be that many of the new fans who attended this week will be enticed back by Kewell’s attacking style of football and regularly support the new brand which may well take Crawley to the next level in the years to come.