Before the 2023/24 League Two season began, TheRealEFL writers took part in a prediction article where our writers stated that Crawley Town would be relegated, but did we get that prediction wrong?
For context, TheRealEFL’s Jamie Ward released an article compiling our writer’s predictions on who would finish where in the EFL League Two table for this season. Crawley were predicted to be relegated by all writers that took part, including myself, Jamie Ward and Ryan Whelan.
However, after three league matches, Crawley Town remain unbeaten in league competition and almost overcome League One side Exeter City in the EFL Cup last week, losing to an 84th minute strike from James Scott. This is despite Scott Lindsey’s side having one of the toughest starts on paper in the entire division and will head into this weekend’s match in third place.
Speaking of Lindsey, he was asked in a recent pre-match interview about his thoughts on Crawley being favourites to get relegated and it appears as though he wasn’t best pleased with our predictions, as he stated…
‘I think there was one media outlet called TheRealEFL, which have nine writers with every one of them predicting us to go down, I don’t know what evidence they had to come up with that conclusion.’
Despite their successful start, the club have only played three of their 46 League Two matches and it is important that the supporters don’t get too carried away. However, with that being said, let’s take a look at my personal reasoning as to why I predicted Crawley Town to go down.
The selling of key players
In Lindsey’s interview, he mentions that the club have dived down a different path this summer, allowing experienced players to depart in favour of bringing more youth into the squad. In terms of departed players, Crawley Town have already said goodbye to the likes of Kwesi Appiah, Ashley Nadesan, Joel Lynch and James Tilley.
These players were replaced with younger alternatives including Bromley’s Harry Forster, Gillingham’s Will Wright, Swindon’s Ronan Darcy and Gateshead’s Adam Campbell, all of which are risky signings for the club due to several contributing factors including a lack of EFL experience.
Thinking back to recent seasons, many sides have been keen to add more experience into their squads and as a result, it has had a positive affect on their squad. However, Crawley have attempted to reverse away from this, which I saw as a major red flag, especially as the departed players have almost all had strong starts to the campaign.
A disappointing previous campaign
Crawley Town were very fortunate that they weren’t relegated to the National League last season, finishing the campaign in 22nd place, just three points above Hartlepool United. The club lost 22 of their league matches, which is just under 50% as well as conceding 71 goals which was worse than Rochdale who finished bottom of the League Two standings.
Similarly, their top scorer was Dominic Telford, who managed 12 league goals, which is less than half of the amount of goals he got for Newport County in the previous campaign. Unfortunately for Crawley, their next highest scorer was Ashley Nadesan with seven goals but he has since left for fellow League Two side Gillingham.
A weaker squad
This does play into a previous point about selling key players, however, I thought I’d explain this in more detail. Clubs across the EFL have sold key players in this transfer window from Coventry in the Championship, to Wigan Athletic in League One and now Crawley in League Two.
However, every other side have reinvested that money back into their playing squad and have attempted in a positive way to make their existing squads stronger, heading into the 2023/24 EFL campaign. Unfortunately for Crawley, they have allowed key players to depart and have instead signed a lot of unproven players to try and replace some of their star men.
James Tilley has excelled with AFC Wimbledon, whilst Ashley Nadesan has had a strong start at Gillingham. Whereas, Crawley have added at least six players from the National League or below, as well as the additions of Kamarai Swyer at West Ham United and Aaron Henry at Charlton who have no EFL experience.
However, despite the obvious red flags, Crawley Town have shocked the division’s fans so far, picking up seven points from their opening three league matches, which included a surprise opening day win against promotion favourites Bradford City and will head into this weekend’s match against Gillingham in third place.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the positives from Crawley Town’s start and the reasons why we may have got it wrong…
Giving credit where credit is due, the Crawley Town manager has been the mastermind behind the club’s dream start to their 2023/24 League Two campaign. He has managed to boost the morale in the squad and give them their best league start since the 2016/17 campaign.
If the club beat Gillingham, it will be their best start to a season since the 2012/13 League One season, when they got nine points from their opening four games. The club finished that campaign in tenth place.
Lindsey has remained positive in each of his pre-match interviews, despite the big-named departures and it is evident that his positivity has played a role in his side’s positive start to the League Two season, although there is still a very long way to go.
Being the ‘Underdog’
When the initial fixtures for League Two were released, it was evident that Crawley Town had one of the toughest starts on paper. In their first five games, Crawley were drawn against Bradford City, Salford City, MK Dons, Gillingham and Swindon Town.
Unsurprisingly, the club have been the favourites to lose in each of these matches so far and I believe this has benefited the club. This is because the Crawley Town players, especially the inexperienced ones, can go into matches without the additional pressure of having to win games.
You could argue that next week’s match against Swindon Town is the first time we will see Crawley Town have pressure heading into a match, especially considering it is against Scott Lindsey’s former side and it will therefore be intriguing to see how they get on when the pressure is back on their shoulders.
Goals across the pitch
Last season, Crawley Town had 15 different goal-scorers, with six of them netting just once. This season, Crawley have already had four different goal-scorers, which could mean that despite losing the likes of Ashley Nadesan (7) and James Tilley (5), their goals could be shared out by others, taking away the pressure of losing them.
For example, last season’s bottom club (Rochdale) struggled for goals and had just 13 scorers, with just four of them scoring more than three goals. This caused a magnitude of problems as it meant that their creative players became the focus of the opposition and it reduced the amount of creativity that the side could have, which ultimately contributed to their relegation.
So far, Will Wright, Nicholas Tsaroulla, Danilo Orsi and Klaidi Lolos have scored for the club, which is interesting in itself considering three of those are new signings. With the season being only three weeks old, supporters need to remain calm but the early signs are extremely promising.
Ultimately, it is simply too early to say whether we are right or wrong. Crawley Town have demonstrated a lot of promising signs early on, especially with three of their new additions already scoring for the club. Similarly, both Ashley Nadesan and James Tilley have shined for their new clubs so far, netting five goals between them which is already more than Crawley have got themselves so far this season.
This time last season, Crawley Town had just one point and they didn’t make/beat the seven point mark until game-week 13, which arrived in mid-October. Similarly for context, the last time Crawley picked up seven points from their first three games was the 2016/17 season, when the club finished 19th in League Two.
I am a man of my word and I will ultimately stand by my prediction that Crawley Town will be relegated but based solely on their start to the current campaign, the club are showing signs that they are willing to compete and prove their doubters wrong and I am intrigued to see whether they are still in a similar position after the first ten matches or by the half-way point in the season.
Where do you think Crawley Town will finish this season? Let us know on Twitter @TheRealEFLSocial!