David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Richie Barker’

Captaining The Sinking Ship

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

RB

It’s been a tough few weeks for Pompey fans, with a defeat at Fleetwood on Saturday, prior to that, three 0-0’s put Richie Barker’s team in a good position to push for safety in League Two. However, with other teams around the Blues on a similar points’ tally, with more games to play, it’s become ‘squeaky bum time’ for Pompey’s remaining games this season.

After the 5-1 away thumping at Scunthorpe it became evident that something needed to change. With a 1-0 win against Accrington Stanley under the team’s belt, the team needed to push on for the trip to Chesterfield; doing exactly that. With Pompey putting in a solid performance in front of the Sky cameras to earn a point, Pompey fans finally had some optimism for the rest of the season, providing the team could continue to put in the same performance for the remaining games.

Unfortunately, two goalless draws and a loss later, Richie Barker’s team are once again looking into the mire that is the bottom half of the Fourth Division. Several teams around the Blues have games in hand, and are only separated by a few points, and as with any division in England, anyone can beat anyone.

This is where Barker has to prove his worth as Pompey’s manager, something he has struggled to do since his appointment midway through the season. I for one am not impressed with his performance at the helm. From what I have seen, there are constant digs at his predecessor, Guy Whittingham, about the ‘leaky defence’, which he claims to have plugged. However, conceding 3 goals on Saturday suggests otherwise.

With Pompey’s new rock, Ben Chorley, injured, the defence looks shaky. There is no cover for him, although he should not be relied upon to play every match, to win every ball, and to stay 100% fit all the time. This very much comes down to Barker’s recent press conference, saying the defence ‘frustrated’ him on Saturday. The same defence he praised less than a week before, saying it had be fixed. Many Pompey fans are beginning to question Barker’s tactics and approaches in the press, along with the team’s form under his leadership.

Barker currently has a 0.6 goal-to-game ratio, worse than Guy Whittingham’s, however there have been less goals conceded. That said, 0-0 and 1-1 draws will not be good enough for survival in League 2. If Pompey lose to York in their next game, there will be just a point between them and the relegation zone, with other teams around having a game in hand.

From what I’ve seen since Barker took over, the style of play has become very defensive, removing all attacking chances. Although this has stopped conceding goals on a regular basis, there is no Plan B once the opposition have scored; it becomes a case of ‘how many will they beat us by’. That isn’t the mentality Pompey fans should have, and all desire to attack seems to have been stripped from the squad by Barker. In my 18 years of watching football, I’ve always known that if you’re going to ‘park the bus’; you need to be able to counter attack – something that isn’t being done by Barker.

Since coming in as manager, he has brought in 8 new players, covering all areas of the field, however 3 players he has loaned out worry me, and may explain why we aren’t scoring goals. David Connolly, Ryan Bird and Ashley Harris are all attacking players, with different skills, all of which have put in solid performances for the first team this season – so why loan them out and bring in 3 new strikers? With decisions like this, it’s no wonder people are questioning Barker, and claiming he is barking mad. Something needs to change, and it may be too little too late, as come the end of the season Pompey could well be facing a trip to Havant & Waterlooville in the 2014/15 season.

Time really is against Richie Barker, and many Pompey fans have lost patience with the former Crawley manager. Performances must improve, and points need to be picked up from the remaining games. If not, then the already sinking ship will most certainly hit rock bottom; relegation from the Football League.

Onwards and upwards, in Pompey we Trust!

Written by Harry Davis, We Are Going Up’s Portsmouth blogger

Harry tweets at @MrDavishPFC

Richie’s Revolution

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Richie-Barker-Portsmouth_3057388

It’s been a varied period at Fratton Park, with several changes being made both on and off the field. Firstly, I should update you all with the departure of Guy Whittingham who, after a string of poor displays, was let go by the Portsmouth hierarchy. After days of speculations and rumours, Richie Barker, formerly of Crawley Town, was appointed manager, alongside Steve Coppell, now Director of Football at Fratton Park.

It’s been a strange turn of events, but one that myself and many other Pompey fans felt was necessary. With Barker installed at the helm of the good ship Pompey, it was time for change on the pitch, something Barker expressed openly after defeat on his debut Pompey game.

Many players haven’t performed in a Pompey shirt this season, most notably last year’s ‘Player of the Season’ Johnny Ertl, who was immediately dropped from the team after being included in the starting XI of Barker’s first game in charge. This prompted the re-introduction of Simon Ferry in the midfield, taking the captaincy from Ertl, leading to a notably improved display in Barkers’ second game as boss. It became evident in December that the former Crawley Town manager needed to bolster the squad, but the question of everyone’s lips was who, and why would they come to Pompey?

With most free transfers being made in the summer, Barker and Coppell had their work cut out when it came to adding bodies to the blues squad that currently consisted of underperformers and youngsters. Although Barker is all for blooding the youngsters, especially at this level, it is ultimately down to him who has been deemed worthy to pull on a Portsmouth shirt and play in front of 15,000+ fans on a Saturday afternoon.

In my opinion, the culmination of Barker and Coppell has been working superbly, considering Coppell is on no wage whatsoever. Coppell’s contacts in the game have been invaluable, having already signed former Reading left back Nicky Shorey to the Pompey squad, alongside his former Bristol City teammate, striker Ryan Taylor, who scored Pompey’s 78th minute equaliser against Mansfield on Saturday. Adding to the striker force at Pompey has been the long-awaited signing of Jake Jervis, who has been waiting for international clearance to re-join Pompey from his previous Turkish club.

Jervis, an ex-Pompey loanee during the Appleton era, has been linked with a move to Fratton Park since August, but the move fell through due to international clearance being rejected. His previous spell with Pompey was cut short, after parent club Birmingham City recalled him due to an injury crisis. That following season, he took the leap to Turkey, which unfortunately didn’t work out. Having being released in the summer, Jervis was destined for the South Coast, however the move had to wait until Friday, when international clearance was finally granted, with Jervis beginning his debut in the 1-1 draw with Mansfield Town.

Barker set out to improve all areas of the squad, most importantly the defence, who have conceded the most goals this season. Recent signings of Nicky Shorey and Danny Alfei have strengthened the defence, and offered more options for Barker to rotate the team when injuries and suspensions arise.

The signing of Wes Fogden from Bournemouth has also proven crucial. The former Havant & Waterlooville wide man was signed by Bournemouth in the summer of 2012, but hasn’t played a game all season. Thanks to the generosity of Eddie Howe, and the urge to play first team football from Fogden, he has been permitted to leave the Cherries and join Portsmouth on a free transfer, signing an 18-month deal.

Lastly, the strikers this season have put in very irregular performances, without having an out-and-out goal scorer, adding to the plight of the blues. Barker seems to have plugged this gap, with the signings of Taylor and Jervis, conveniently at the time David Connolly has returned to full fitness, setting up Taylor for his first Pompey goal at the weekend having come off the bench.

With the backroom staff and playing squad being altered, performances have been picking up, most notably the Boxing Day win against Dagenham & Redbridge, with out of favour Romain Padovani getting his first goal for Pompey, having not played since August under Whittingham. His goal and reintroduction to the first team has sparked Pompey’s revival, having collected a point at league leaders Oxford United, who obliterated Pompey 4-1 on the opening day of the season.

I said a few months ago that the Christmas period would be what decides Pompey’s season; and I wasn’t wrong. Having the introduction of Richie Barker and Steve Coppell has certainly improved the Pompey squad and in turn, improved results. Now we wait until the end of the transfer window to see what other coups can be made, and whether or not Pompey can push for mid-table security.

Onwards and upwards, in Pompey we Trust!

Written by Harry Davis, We Are Going Up’s Portsmouth blogger

Harry tweets at @MrDavishPFC

It’s showtime!

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Broadfield Stadium 2012Well, nearly.

Time’s flown since the 2-2 home draw with Hartlepool that saw an encouraging first season in League One draw to a close for Crawley Town, and since then we’ve parted company with our CEO Richard Low, and just today appointed Michael Dunford as Low’s replacement.

Other than that, and the well publicised banning of (now former) CTSA Chairman Paul Prendergast from the ground for 4 games, which has since been rescinded, it’s been a fairly quiet summer for The Reds.

In terms of transfers there hasn’t been much activity, for the first time in a long time. The permanent signing of young goalkeeper Jonny Maddison, who spent the majority of last season on loan from Sunderland, as well as the return of  classy midfielder Andy Drury who spent 3 months at Crawley on loan from Ipswich in late 2011, and the acquisition of former West Brom right back James Hurst has been the only business the club has done in the summer, so it’s largely the same squad that wasn’t too far off the play offs, and with a year’s experience at this level along with the return of long term absentee Kyle McFadzean there is potential for the squad to push on and build on a very respectable and encouraging season last time out.

Realistically though, a similar season is what we can expect this year. Last season we were wasteful in the final third and this season I see things being similar as nothing has changed in regards to our strikeforce but the return of Gary Alexander from his loan spell at AFC Wimbledon.

So where will the goals come from? First choice forwards Billy Clarke and Jamie Proctor will both be among the goals for certain, whilst winger Nicky Adams and captain Josh Simpson were a reliable source of goals last year. Still, I’m of the opinion that we require another striker, either someone to come in on a permanent deal and try and fight for a place or someone on loan to offer competition and a different option. Unfortunately that looks unlikely before Saturday’s opener against Coventry but a combination of Clarke and Proctor is in my opinion a potent one all the same, and both are good enough to lead the line for any team in this league in my opinion.

However, whilst we are by no means a defensive side, at the back is where our real strength lies. In goalkeeper Paul Jones we have one of the most talented shotstoppers outside of the Premier League, whilst vice captain and first choice left back Mat Sadler proved to be one of the most consistent players last season. Center backs Kyle McFadzean, Mark Connolly, Connor Essam and Joe Walsh all have Championship quality- indeed, McFadzean has attracted interest from Peterborough in the past and in January nearly completed a move to Bristol City before the deal fell through- and right back James Hurst looks like a very solid signing, as I mentioned earlier, from West Brom.

In midfield there’s further strength in depth, and arguably where Richie Barker will have the most difficulty selecting his starting line up for Saturday. Tricky winger Nicky Adams will be first choice on the right flank, and in the middle of the park Dannie Bulman and Josh Simpson formed a very good partnership last season. On the left Mike Jones has impressed during pre-season but all the same Andy Drury, whilst not an out and out winger, is simply one of the most talented players in the league and if you have that kind of player in your squad then you have to make the most of it. Sergio Torres will provide strong back up and competition for places as well.

Up front we are a bit light in terms of numbers, with only the enigmatic Billy Clarke, Jamie Proctor and Gary Alexander currently fit, however they all have experience at this level and higher and a good amount of quality to boot, and will all be hoping to hit double figures

The one worry I do have is that the squad is very thin. Currently we only have 15 professionals on the books along with three trialists (one of which is Luke Rooney, who I’d personally be delighted to see join) and with extremely limited funds to bring more players in, it won’t be getting much bigger. I’ve no doubt he wants to bring players in and there is still a month to go before the window slams shut, more than enough time to get two or three players in, but whether we will actually be able to is another matter completely, as our resources are small and the number of decent quality players available even smaller. One of Barker’s strengths however has been picking up young, unwanted players from the Premier League and Championship who have a point to prove and will end up making a sizeable profit if and when they are sold – Joe Walsh is a prime example, as it’s widely expected that he will move on for £1m+ in the relatively near future, after signing last summer on a free from Swansea- and it’s not unreasonable to hope that he can unearth another gem before September 2nd.

I honestly think we have a good chance of a play off push if things go our way and the squad remains injury free, which it did last season mainly. There’s a lot of quality in the squad and a good team spirit which bodes well. But whatever this season brings, it promises to be eventful. Let’s hope the show’s a good one.

Written by Louie Elmer, We Are Going Up’s Crawley Town blogger

Louie tweets at @louie_j_e

Crawley Town – where we’d love a little boredom?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

CTFC

The last twelve months have demonstrated that there is never a good time for a Crawley Town supporter to write a season preview. Around this time last year I wrote a piece filled with optimism about our first ever season in League One, and with confidence in our new and highly prized manager, Sean O’Driscoll. Two days later – and luckily before the article had been published – the aforementioned S’OD had left us for Nottingham Forest without managing a single competitive game. This year? Well, we’ve lost a Chief Executive and a Marketing Manager amongst others; and once again I’ve had to work on a rewrite. Perhaps I’m the problem? I’m starting to think I should hold off from writing season previews until it has actually started.

Last season, despite the optimism, I pointed out that I would be happy with finishing 18th. I was criticised by some for being short on confidence, but I retorted that I was simply a realist. We’re a small club and shouldn’t be afraid to admit that; average crowds just above three and a half thousand shouldn’t allow us to compete with the likes of Doncaster, Preston and Sheffield United. Well we beat each of these on their own patch, played some scintillating football at times, and finished tenth. It may have been higher still had we not sold our best player, Hope Akpan, to Reading in January, and had our top performing Centre Back, Kyle McFadzean, been fit for the second part of the campaign (mind you, had he been fit we’d probably have lost him to Bristol City, so small mercies should be mentioned here). Add to all of that the thrills of knocking Millwall and Bolton out of the League Cup before losing to the odd goal in five to eventual winners Swansea City, and another good FA Cup run, we had much to be happy about.

This season? It’s difficult to tell. I’m still a realist and I think, yet again, that most Crawley Town fans would be happy with 18th. But we have a manager in Richie Barker who has proved himself very good at picking up young players from higher leagues and getting them to play to their potential, and we’re probably only a couple of signings away from an improvement on last years finish. The problem is, can we afford those couple of signings?

That shouldn’t be interpreted as a snipe at the board. The sensible (though sometimes not particularly vocal) majority of our supporters have nothing but appreciation for our owners. We remember vividly what it felt like to be ten minutes from oblivion- we’ve no doubt we’d have ended up there without the largess of the Carter’s and the Winfield’s- and whilst the recent departure of a Chief Executive who had only been in situ for six months has caused some disquiet, in the main we have confidence in the decision making abilities of the people who get to make the decisions; they’ve earned that confidence. If there’s a snipe to be made, it’s probably at the football watching public of our area. Growth on the field has not been matched by growth off it – whilst our attendances are substantially larger than they were two years ago they aren’t, as mentioned, large enough to underwrite enormous amounts of investment. Stand on the platform at Three Bridges Station on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll see swathes of Chelsea, West Ham, Spurs, Arsenal and even Brighton shirts- we need to be persuading more of these people to visit the Broadfield, even if only when their own teams are away. We’re on your doorstep, the football is (usually) good, we’re a darn site cheaper than your top league tarts and we will make you very welcome! Until we can do that, it’s far more important that we balance the books rather than sign expensive players.

So, what do we expect from the next nine months? The defence looks strong. With Kyle fit again, Walsh, Connolly and Sadler still here from last season, and young Essam looking better every game, we’ve reason to be satisfied. We’ll miss Mustapha Dumbuya at right back (and his understudy from last season David Hunt, a great chap who will do well at Oxford), but we’ve a good unit and a great keeper in Paul Jones. Our Midfield has been strengthened by the signing of Andy Drury following his spell at Ipswich, to great public acclaim as we loved him when he was with us on loan two seasons ago. Up front, however, we have a few worries. Jamie Proctor looks a great prospect, and hopefully the idiots shouting abuse at him at Leyton Orient last season have learned from their stupidity – but he needs some support. Billy Clarke knows where the goal is and is by far our most creative player, but regulars would probably agree that he isn’t an archetypal centre forward and is better with a free role or perhaps behind a front two. We’re not sure where the other one of that front two is coming from, however. Gary Alexander was so far off the pace for much of last season that we loaned him to AFC Kingston, and apart from that our options are very young and untried. In short, Proctor could do with a little help. Rumours about the return of Matt Tubbs from the seaside abound, and that would indeed create an enormous swathe of optimism around the place, but can we afford him given he allegedly quadrupled his wages when leaving us? Only time will tell. But what is certain is that, whatever the season holds, following Crawley Town is never boring. In fact, a season of boredom might just do us the world of good!

Written by Ian Townsend, from the Crawley Town Supporters Alliance

Ian and the CTSA tweet at @ctsalliance

End of season report

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Another season has passed and it seems incredible to think that it’s nearly a year since Scott Neilson’s 67th minute goal at Accrington. Since then, a lot has changed.

For example, only six first team players from then are still with Crawley Town. Dannie Bulman, David Hunt, Kyle McFadzean, Josh Simpson, Sergio Torres and Billy Clarke, and I would be surprised if that number isn’t lower come the start of next season.

The club also have a new Chief Executive, are up for sale and on the pitch have just secured a very respectable 10th place in their first season in League One.

Next season there is plenty to build on, and if we keep the core of this squad and build on it I think we really stand a chance of making the play offs, particularly as we weren’t far off this year and we held our own against a number of the top six. This included wins away at Doncaster and Sheffield United, draws at home to Swindon and Doncaster when we really should have  won, a win at home to Bournemouth (admittedly before they sacked Paul Groves – indeed, it was that game that prompted the Bournemouth board to sack him.)

Also, it was a case of not winning games we should have won which has cost us, such as the aforementioned home games against Swindon and Doncaster, Walsall away, Yeovil home (a game we lost but dominated) and away, Stevenage at home, Carlisle at home, Notts County at home, to name some.

It is a case of converting performances that merit wins into wins for next season, as we have shown we are one of the better sides in this division, and the core of this side is excellent. Players like Dannie Bulman, captain fantastic Josh Simpson, Mark Connolly, Paul Jones, Nicky Adams, Billy Clarke, Kyle McFadzean, Joe Walsh, Jamie Proctor and Mat Sadler are the players we should build our side around, these are the players who will form the nucleus of a successful season next term.

Josh Simpson has signed a new contract which is excellent news, but added to that inevitable departures of several out of contract players such as Shaun Cooper means that Richie Barker will surely be looking to add at least a few faces to his squad for a second season in League  One – but where do the Reds need to strengthen?

A new striker, or likely two, will surely be brought in, as both loanees Paul Hayes and Aiden O’Brien are returning to Brentford and Millwall respectively and the out of contract Lateef Elford Alliyu has been released, leaving just Jamie Proctor as the club’s sole striker currently (discounting Billy Clarke as he’s more of a forward than an out and out striker). Proctor himself has shown he is capable of leading the line this season, scoring seven goals since joining in January, and he will surely be a crucial part of the side next season.

A new central midfielder may also be on the list as whilst out-of-contract Matt Sparrow looks set to sign a new contract, Dannie Bulman is out of contract although I expect talks about a new deal to begin soon if they haven’t already,  and of course Josh Simpson has signed on for another two years, but four central midfielders will probably be an ideal number.

Right backs David Hunt and Mustapha Dumbuya are both out of contract this summer and so that is another area which will need to be strengthened, even if one of them signs a new contract.

There’s a lot to be optimistic about going into next season, and, whisper it quietly, I believe there is a genuine chance of us making the play-offs and even challenging for automatic promotion if the right players are retained and brought in.

This past season has been a funny one, one of great memories tinged by a hint of frustration  we slipped up in games we could and should have won. Winning away at Portsmouth on Boxing Day, the recent win at Sheffield United, Nicky Adams’ wondergoal in the first minute against Reading, beating Bolton at home with two goals in the last five minutes. All wonderful memories and moments that will brighten up a season which, after looking like it could have promised so much, fizzled out into a season of consolidation.

Finishing 10th however is far from a disgrace for our first season in League One, and as one of the smaller if not the smallest club in the league it’s a position we can be very proud of. Barker’s done an excellent job on a small budget and this year he has a pre-season to build his own squad, something he didn’t have last year and if he uses the summer wisely, next season could be a very exciting one for the club.

Written by Louie Elmer, We Are Going Up’s Crawley Town blogger

Louie tweets at @louie_j_e

In defence of Richie Barker

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

On Wednesday the Crawley News revealed that their sports reporter Kaylee Seckington had been banned from interviewing Crawley Town staff and players, saying that manager Richie Barker “was unhappy with two headlines in our March 13th edition.”

The Reds boss has come under a lot of criticism with many stating his reaction was over the top and that his reactions reeked of arrogance and the inevitable “who does he think he is, Fergie?” comments.

Some of that I would agree with. Banning a journalist when it’s not even their headline (or headlines) is harsh but I think it would do some good to look at it from Barker’s perspective, instead of slating a manager who is still learning – and has been in management for roughly two years – for something which has now been completely blown out of proportion.

The headlines in question were ‘We Must Show More Ambition’ in quotes, when the actual quote was ’I know I have ambition, I hope the club have ambition too, that is the reason I came here’ and ‘Crawley won’t resort to lumping it like Evans did’ which paraphrased “Sometimes you have just got to put the ball in the box, but put it in with quality don’t lump it. They have had three years of watching that here, they don’t want to watch it anymore, surely?”

If I was Richie Barker I think I would be a little annoyed, firstly at being misquoted and secondly, having a quote completely taken out of context. In the first case it could easily be taken that he is criticising the club and the second that he is criticising a former employee of the club who is now manager of another club. Now I’ll admit that I didn’t think much of either headline when I saw the paper that day but if I’m honest I only skim through the sports section anyway, but if the paper continued to misquote and take out of context what he’s said I don’t blame him for wanting to put a stop to it.

What if he said something about his own contract like “I don’t know, it runs out at the end of the season and that’s all there is to say. I’m yet to talk to the board about extending it but I would like to” and the headline was ‘Barker doubts his future at Crawley.’ That could have potentially very severe consequences, so you can see where he’s coming from.

On the same line, he has to think about the damage that could be done to his reputation or image if the Crawley News continued to misquote him and paraphrase him in the way they have done. He’s only been in management for two years and if a future employer was to look at headlines about Barker, it could have consequences for any future job aspirations.

Something that did amuse but at the same time irritate me was that the paper ran a poll next to their article about the situation, asking readers “Has Crawley Town manager Richie Barker done a good job this season: Yes (28%) No (73%)” (which adds up to 101% – not sure how that works.)

The answer is yes, he’s done an excellent job, but of course a frustrating lack of wins recently and the fact we could have made the playoffs this season has led many fans to believe that he is a poor manager. The fact the poll is next to a negative article about Barker doesn’t help, and laughably the poll is nowhere to be found on the website other than there. I wonder why?

I’m not saying Barker was right to ban the journalist, not at all, but the Crawley News surely have to consider his point and instead of inciting fans against the manager, intentionally or not, surely it would have been better to deal with it in private? Instead the whole incident has been blown out of proportion and I get the feeling that a lot of fans who were previously content with Barker as manager will now turn against him, especially if the situation escalates. And that wouldn’t be fair, not for the players who would be affected by the negativity at games nor Barker who I believe is doing a great job.

I genuinely think some fans thought we would be getting automatic promotion again, but as I’ve said previously consolidation was the aim at the start of the season and despite our play-off hopes, that always was the aim, so to say he’s doing a bad job is as far from the truth as you can get.

But fans will always be fickle, and it doesn’t take much for some fans to change their opinion. For example, many were on the back of Jamie Proctor after a goalless first few games for the club, but a few weeks later he scored a brace against Crewe to give us our first home win since New Years Day and the crowd were chanting his name. He missed a good chance against Shrewsbury on Easter Monday, and of course he’s gone back to being good for nothing, lazy, and useless, among other things I probably shouldn’t repeat on here, despite scoring five goals in seven games during March.

The fickle nature of fans means that sadly this incident will probably overshadow what’s been a good season for Crawley Town, but on the other hand all will be forgiven if we make the playoffs next year.

Written by Louie Elmer, We Are Going Up’s Crawley Town blogger

Louie tweets at @louie_j_e

Everything to gain, nothing to lose

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

With 9 games left of the season, it will take an incredible run for Richie Barker’s Reds to make the play-offs. But can we do it?

10 points off the play offs with 9 to go, it doesn’t seem likely. However in recent weeks we’ve played and taken points off Leyton Orient, Yeovil, Swindon, Doncaster, Walsall and Notts County, all teams above us, and arguably all those games we deserved to win, only beating Orient out of the 6. Had we have won even just 3 of those games, we would be in a much better position and potentially in the play offs (I haven’t done the maths but we’d certainly be a lot closer). The good news is that we still have to play MK Dons, Coventry, Tranmere and Sheffield United, 4 of the 12 teams above us, and realistically we can win perhaps 3 out of those 4.

With the exception of Sheffield United, I think we should go into every one of our remaining 9 fixtures looking to get the win, starting with the visit of Crewe to the Broadfield on Saturday and then Stevenage on Good Friday- 2 wins from those games would see us on a role going into away trips to MK and Shrewsbury, again both games I think we can win. It’s then back to the Broadfield for what will be a huge game against Coventry, before returning to the road for two trips up north to Sheffield United and Oldham. Two home games to end the season, with Preston and then Hartlepool to visit.

All winnable games, but then our problem recently is that our performances haven’t got the results they’ve warranted. In particular the last 5 games, in which we are unbeaten but with 4 draws, and all 4 of those draws could and should have been wins. Unfortunately this has been all too often the case recently, with draws that should have been wins looking likely to cost us in our quest for a play off place.

Take Saturday’s game at Walsall for instance. An excellent strike for Jamie Proctor and a smart finish from Paul Hayes (more about him later) saw us comfortably 2-0 up but a horrendous injury time collapse saw us throw away what would have been a superb win. A deflected Jamie Paterson strike took the ball past Paul Jones in the first minute of 4 added on, before a low cross into the box bobbled over the otherwise excellent Connor Essam’s left foot for Will Grigg to slam home from 6 yards. It was harsh on the Reds, who after a slow first half had vastly improved in the second. A game we should have won but didn’t.

The draws against Notts County, Carlisle, Yeovil, Doncaster and Swindon all have the same feel of 2 points dropped rather than 1 gained. It’s a case of converting chances and being a bit more clinical than we are, which judging by the way recent results is easier said than done.

One man who might be able to help with that is recent loan signing Paul Hayes. The 29 year old striker on loan from Brentford for a month impressed me on Saturday, particularly his hold up play and he added a goal to his display. Him and Jamie Proctor look to have struck up a good partnership already, which has forced Billy Clarke out onto the wing. If he can hit a good run of form for the month (hopefully longer) that he’s here, that could go some way to propelling us up the table.

We have everything to gain, nothing to lose, and there’s no harm to be done by going for it, as Barker implied with a very attacking line up against Yeovil last Tuesday which saw us nearly take a win despite being 2-0 at half time. This season though I think will end in consolidation rather than a trip to Wembley. Maybe next year…

Written by Louie Elmer, We Are Going Up’s Crawley Town blogger

Louie tweets at @louie_j_e

 

Barker doing alright

Friday, January 4th, 2013

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 2 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

Promotion challenge falling to pieces

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

After a good start to the season which saw Crawley Town up to the dizzy heights of second in League One at one stage, the club has slipped to ninth thanks to a run of  just one win in November, away to Met Police in the FA Cup, and no wins in six in the league. Worrying times indeed, but the lack of goals and indeed a goalscorer is the main concern. Gary Alexander, reliable for much of last season for both Brentford and Crawley when he joined, is clearly lacking confidence (although he did hit the post this weekend.)

It’s been frustrating because for much of this period, the team have played okay but individual errors and lapses in concentration have cost us. For example, against Oldham we were comfortable for much of the game, but had to settle for a draw after going behind and then being rescued by a late Kyle McFadzean strike.

Against Yeovil on Tuesday night, we put in probably one of our best performances of the season (certainly at home,) and somehow came away with nothing after a late own goal by David Hunt – this was despite dominating them in the second half and failing to convert numerous goal mouth scrambles. You get the feeling that if, dare I say it, Matt Tubbs had been playing, he may have stuck away a goal or two and we’d have got the win we deserved.

Is Matt Tubbs the answer? I’d say yes. Part of it is the sentimental side of me wanting the best striker in the club’s history back ‘home’ but part of it is thinking logically. Crawley needs a goalscorer, Tubbs is a goalscorer. The club, in particular the fans, need a lift and signing a club legend would bring exactly that, so why not? He’s out of favour at Bournemouth, has already said he’d be open to a move back and is exactly what we’re missing. The only problem I can see is that Bournemouth paid a huge fee for him and would want a fair amount of that money back, money Crawley just don’t have.

Despite us spending huge amounts of money on back to back promotions, mainly transfer fees, we  have cut back on our spending and this summer, in the main relying on loans and free transfers. One thing is for certain though, and that is we need goals desperately, whether it be in the form of Matt Tubbs, Gary Alexander finding his shooting boots or perhaps a young striker who’s scored 23 goals whilst on loan at Met Police – Jonte Smith.

Granted, League One is a completely different level, but I’m a firm believer that if you’re a natural goalscorer you’ll be able to make the step up to any level (to a degree) and unlike Tubbs he won’t actually cost anything. He’s a product of the revamped youth system here at Crawley and it would be nice to see him given a game.

Despite all this, there have been a few bright sparks – namely Nicky Adams and Kyle McFadzean.

Both have been absolute class and should be playing in the Championship. McFadzean is definitely the best defender we’ve ever had, and has been an absolute rock alongside Big Claude Davis. Somehow the club have managed to convince him to sign a three year contract, but if he stays for even half of that I’ll be surprised. Nicky Adams is equally brilliant, always giving 100% and he’s the kind of winger that gets people off their seat – always looking to take the full back on and get a cross in. He’s even chipped in with a few goals this season.

So it’s not all doom and gloom – and if Crawley can start taking our chances we’ll rise back into the play off places once more. But to be honest, I think a lot of people are over reacting to an admittedly bad period considering where we were a few years ago. If you ask me we need to just enjoy being in League One and support the team and Richie Barker. Moaning won’t serve to help the team, and, let’s be honest, if you were giving 100% each week (and I don’t doubt the players do) and all you got in return was fans getting on your back, what would you think?

Written by Louie Elmer, We Are Going Up’s Crawley Town blogger

Louie tweets at @LouieElmer

New season, new manager…s

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

This summer was always going to be a strange one for Crawley – after all, nobody was really sure how we’d get on in our first season in League One. The general consensus however, was that consolidation should be the aim. After two promotions on the bounce, a season or two of stability is what’s required right now. Which is why, when Sean O’Driscoll was announced as new manager at the beginning of pre-season, I was delighted.

Attractive football, not what we had become accustomed to under Evans, astute in the transfer market, and he came across as an amicable character, someone who would work hard to establish the club in League One and hopefully beyond. But his tenure lasted all but two months before Nottingham Forest came calling for his services. Needless to say, he jumped ship and we were, for the second time this year, left managerless.

But in the short time he was manager, he left a considerable mark on the club. A new style of football, much preferred to Evans-ball, was implemented and when he left, it came as a bitter blow. Whoever the new manager would be, they were under a lot of pressure to keep the same style of football and produce results. Coach Craig Brewster or Director of Football Steve Coppell, who knew the players well and would ensure stability and continuity, were my prefered candidates, but neither seemed likely. Failing that, Sean Dyche, harshly sacked by Watford after leading them to 11th in the Championship last year, would have been a good appointment, but that never seemed on the cards.

A number of managers were considered, and consequently turned Town down including Dean Holdsworth, one of a worryingly long list. Then Crawley turned to a name which came as a surprise to everyone. Richie Barker of Bury. Even after doing a good job with Bury, carrying them across the promotion line to League One in the 2010-11 season, then steering them to mid table safety last campaign, I was dubious.

The board, however, seemingly weren’t so and in due course finally got their man. However in the days that have passed, I’ve become convinced that he’s the man for the job. Keeping the attractive style of football that O’Driscoll brought to the club and with intentions to stabilise and then build the club, he is exactly what was required. Whether he’s had enough time to stamp his authority on the team yet is unknown, but the appointment, whilst perhaps unexpected, has turned out to be a very astute one.

So for the new season consolidation is still the aim and anything more would be a bonus. Another promotion would see Crawley way out of their depth in the Championship, and could see the long term stability of the club severely under pressure. So for the first time in a good couple of years, I think we’re happy with mid table mediocrity.

The squad that will take us into our first season as a League One side is a mixture of the side that saw us promoted from League Two – only David Hunt, Michel Kuipers, Scott Neilson, Josh Simpson, Sergio Torres, Dannie Bulman, Charlie Wassmer and Kyle McFadzean remain from the legendary Conference winning side of two seasons ago – and new faces. Gone is much of the deadwood from last year, and in come Nicky Adams, Mat Sadler, Mark Connolly, Jonathan Forte, Nicky Ajose, and Paul Jones. Here I’ll run the rule over the squad.

Michel Kuipers is a veteran at 39, and will be second choice to Jones this season. Signed in the summer of 2010 on a free from Brighton, the former Dutch Marine has a tendency to make erratic decisions, such as those that led to him being sent off twice in his first two games for the club. However he has always done the job when called upon despite injury in the early part of 2011, which saw the now departed Scott Shearer replace him as number 1.

Paul Jones is already something of a hero with a fantastic performance in the penalty shootout against Millwall earlier this week, saving two of their three penalties. He’s an excellent shot stopper who is comfortable dealing with backpasses and that will make him first choice this season.

In defence is David Hunt, a fan favourite and stalwart of the double winning promotion side. Steve Evans converted him from a midfielder into a solid right back with a tendency to join in the attack. Largely second choice to Mark Connolly in pre-season although that may change under Richie Barker. Connolly is primarily a centre back, but used at right back during pre-season after signing on a free from Bolton. Solid and dependable, he will be first choice at right back if the warm up games are anything to go by.

*Big* Claude Davis is, in simple terms, a beast of a centre back. Signed on a free last September, he proved to be integral to our promotion last season and another good campaign is needed from the Jamaican tank after he penned a new contract on Friday. Kyle MaFadzean is a highly rated defender capable of playing in midfield – the 23 year old from Sheffield was a mainstay of the double winning promotion side, alongside first Pablo Mills and then Davis. He tackles and passes well, and proved to be formidable alongside Davis last season. The signing of a three year contract, as announced also on Friday, is a huge boost.

Charlie Wassmer is another highly rated young defender. The 21-year-old who signed from Hayes and Yeading in March 2011 initially on loan has proved to be a more than capable deputy at centre back. Largely blamed by Steve Evans for the 6-0 mauling suffered at the hands of Morecambe last season, he wasn’t given another chance until Evans departed, but could be a Premier League defender one day.

Experienced left back Mat Sadler completes the backline having arrived from Walsall and has the spot largely to himself this season, but seems a good fit and gets forward well.

In the midfield winger Scott Neilson was largely a bit part player last season, useful as an impact sub and scored the winning goal against Accrington to send us up to League One. He won’t feature much this season, but is still a useful player who can be terrifying on his day.

Dannie Bulman is a club legend. The box to box midfielder was sold to Oxford back in 2007 to help ease our financial woes, but rejoined in September ’10 and has been a regular since. Good passer, box to box, leader. Say no more.

Sergio Torres cemented his place in Crawley history with a dramatic late winner against Derby County two seasons ago in the FA Cup third round – an act which actually caused Steve Evans to run! The flamboyant midfielder is a fans favourite with his passing and hard work. Loves the club, the fans love him. A regular last season, the ever-smiling Argentine may not feature as much this season though.

Tricky winger Nicky Adams has signed from Rochdale following their relegation last season and he will be key with his passing and dirbbling. A great acquisition.

Also in the engine room is Josh Simpson, a good passer of the ball with good feet who was last season’s captain in place of the largely injured and now departed Pablo Mills. He has found it difficult to nail down a first team place since joining in January 2011 from Peterborough, but that seems to have changed under O’Driscoll and now Barker with the new style of play. It could be a big season for him.

The tenacious Hope Akpan joined from Everton on a free last summer found first team places hard to come by despite flashes of quality, but has excelled in pre season and is now one of the first names on the team sheet. Can hold in midfield, get forward or do the box to box role. Defensive midfielder Sean Cooper signed from Bournemouth this summer and is a player who can tackle, pass well and will prove a useful addition to the squad, but may struggle to get consistent first team action.

Arron Wickham is promising young midfielder who likes to get forward, and the first product of the revamped youth development and scouting system to break into the first team, featuring on the bench against Stoke in February.

Up top we have Billy Clarke – a tricky, versatile striker who can operate anywhere in an attacking role. Clarke will be the creative force upfront this year. He struggled for goals at first when he joined at the end of January, but has been prolific in pre season and will be crucial. He’s got Championship quality for sure. Alongside him is Gary Alexander who was brought in on loan last season from Brentford. The former Millwall and Leyton Orient man got the goals at the end of last season to get us up and will need to do so again this year whilst wearing the captain’s armband.

Maligned by many for his lack of goals since joining last summer, John Akinde or ‘Big John’ as I have christened him packs pace and power, but so often ruins his good work with a poor finish in front of goal. I’m one of the few who actually rates him, and he’ll need to have a good season this time round.

Jonte Smith was prolific at youth level last year and the 18 year old Bermudan has been promoted to the first team squad this time round and has an exciting future. He won’t feature much this season, but, like Arron Wickham, is a product of the youth system at Crawley and a good one at that.

Jonathan Forte signed on loan for three months earlier today, could prove useful this season, having spent time in this division with Notts County previously. Nicky Ajose, like Forte, has signed on loan for three months but this time with a view to a permanent deal. Quick and with an eye for goal, and still young, he could prove to be an inspired signing.

So there it is. The squad that will lead Crawley into League One and in my opinion a strong one.

The aim for this season is to consolidate and perhaps attain a top half finish if we’re lucky. Crawley host Scunthorpe on the opening day, a game which will tell us a lot about what we can expect from this season, and I’m going to stick my neck out and predict a 2-1 Crawley win, with Alexander and Adams getting the goals.

Of course, that’ll all come back to haunt me come 5:15pm tomorrow when we’ve lost 5-0 won’t it? Anyway, roll on the new season!

Written by Louie Elmer, We Are Going Up’s Crawley Town blogger

Louie tweets at @LouieElmer