On Saturday when Crawley Town face Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup First Round they will be well aware that if they wish to do well in a knockout competition they have to mix it with the toughest opposition.
In all honesty the league is exactly the same and to entertain promotion hopes the Reds must be able to acquit themselves well against all of their opponents.
The 66 ardent fans who made the 700-mile round trip to Brunton Park soon discovered that playing Carlisle United was a step too far.
This could be evidenced by the appearance in home blue of two well regarded former Reds from League One days, namely Nicky Adams and Mike Jones and of substitute Shaun Miller (a former loanee) whom many hoped Crawley would sign on contract.
The strength and ambition of the Cumbrians was plain to see.
The difference in class was quickly shown by Carlisle’s opening goals.
Despite strength in numbers none of the defence got close enough to stop Jabo Ibehre heading in Tom Miller’s long throw nor could any of them prevent Michael Raynes from nodding the ball on to Jason Kennedy for the second. Neither Carlisle player had been adequately marked.
At least Luke Joyce’s 25-yard pile driver could go down as a plus for the striker with no recriminations about the defending. That was the nub of it – Carlisle knew how to put the ball in the net and Reds did not know how to stop them.
The encounter was by far from one-sided as Crawley matched the home side for possession and created a gratifying number of chances.
That they took none of them bar Mark Connolly’s 94th-minute tap in was ample proof of the gulf in class. No individual was to blame but no-one was good enough on the day.
So Crawley’s campaign suffered a setback in a very daunting match but I don’t believe we should agonise too much over the result.
The team’s improvement is a work in progress for Dermot Drummy and Matt Gray and they are making a decent fist of it. The club simply cannot go from narrowly escaping relegation to the National League to being promotion candidates overnight.
The improvements made on the pitch are plain to see while the results are fair to good.
If the second half of the season brings further progress then we will all be at least looking forward to season 2017/2018 or possibly to this season’s play offs.
The management have found the stability that has been lacking even in more successful seasons and that is very welcome on the terraces.
Generally the defensive play has been of a high order, the creativity of the midfield has been impressive but the standard of finishing still needs attention.
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