League Two Analysis - Crawley remain on course for promotion despite the departure of Steve Evans
Crawley Town came from behind to beat Barnet 2-1 at Underhill on Easter Monday, just hours after the club announced manager Steve Evans had left to take up the vacant position at Rotherham United following Andy Scott’s sacking last month. In the circumstances it was a very impressive win, and a vital one in the context of the promotion race, which looks like it could go down to the wire.
The big-spending Sussex side – now being guided by caretaker boss Craig Brewster and the newly-appointed Director of Football, Steve Coppell – were rarely out of the top three in the first half of the season, and looked dead certs for automatic promotion with strikers Matt Tubbs and Tyrone Barnett firing on all cylinders. However, with attendances at the Broadfield Stadium not growing as expected, club co-owners Susan and Ian Carter warned that players would have to be sold to increase revenue, which duly happened in the January transfer window when both Tubbs and Barnett departed to Bournemouth and Peterborough respectively, albeit for very healthy fees.
Evans, who had wanted to add to his squad during the window, was believed to have been unhappy with the manner of the sales, and his move to Rotherham, despite its curious timing, could perhaps be traced back to those January events.
The season certainly took a topsy-turvey turn as January passed. Only two wins in eight matches between February and mid-March saw Crawley slide towards the lower end of the play-off picture, but a subsequent haul of 17 points from a possible 21, helped by two very astute loan signings in strikers Gary Alexander and Leon Clarke, has moved the Red Devils back up to fourth.
Automatic promotion essentially remains in Crawley’s hands. The club trails third-placed Shrewsbury by two points, but both have a game in hand over Torquay United – three points ahead – in second spot. With a superior goal difference by six goals, maximum points from now will almost guarantee a top-three finish for Crawley. Should they have to settle for the play-offs, however, there is a possibility they could yet face Rotherham. Admittedly the Millers are tenth and four points off the top seven, but football does have the habit of conjouring up spicy scenarios.
The usually outspoken Evans has been relatively quiet on his move, though Rotherham chairman Tony Stewart, speaking about the club’s imminent move to a new home, the New York Stadium, didn’t mince his words.
"The 'X factor' [for Evans] was the stadium and the volume of crowd we can attract here which is far greater than Crawley. We're a bigger club with ambition and drive and we're showing that," he told BBC Radio Sheffield earlier this week.
Barnet hover perilously in 22nd place, three points ahead of Macclesfield and Hereford in the drop zone. On Friday the Bees host Hereford in what could be the defining match in the battle for Football League survival. A win for Barnet would go a long way towards securing their League Two status, but a loss would dump them in the bottom two due to the Bulls’ superior goal difference. A win for Macclesfield at home to Crewe on Saturday would leave all three clubs on 36 points.
At the top end of the table, Torquay host fifth-placed Southend, who still have an outside chance of a top three spot. Leaders Swindon could clinch promotion if they beat Plymouth and Crawley lose to Wimbledon.