Joey Barton's men made their way to Sussex yesterday and have scouted out the opposition ahead of the match. The Red Devils are rooted to the bottom of the Football League following defeats to both Carlisle United and Leyton Orient, despite being one of the favourites for the division.
Crawley were taken over in April and have a unique ownership model, whilst they've also strengthened big and signed Dominic Telford, who was the top scorer of the league last season.
Ashley Adamson-Edwards, a sports writer for SussexWorld, gives us an insight as to what Crawley will aim to throw at Rovers this evening.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Crawley Town heading into this match?
Despite losing their opening two games of the season, their strength off the back of the recent loss to Leyton Orient has to be their defence. As long as they line up with the experienced centre-half partnership of George Francomb and Dion Conroy, Bristol will find it hard to directly break Crawley down. At 30-years-old, Francomb has adapted superbly to the new system under Betsy and Conroy comes joined from Swindon over the summer who played a similar style last season.
Travis Johnson in RB also looks to be a brilliant addition to the squad. He’s young, fast, reliable in possession and is able to get forward and create attacks when he needs to. Crawley started with Tobi Omole in LB against Orient and was excellent before being subbed for Mazeed Ogungbo who also had a really strong performance.
Leyton Orient did dominate the attacking chances throughout the game but from open play, they were very rarely able to cut through the Reds defence. It seems their back-line is equipped with well-experienced players who can already play Betsy’s possession based-style and young talent that can explode up the pitch and race back.
The weakness lies in the attack. Across their two opening League Two games, Crawley have only recorded three shots with only one being on target. They came out with the better possession after both matches which reflects the kind of football Betsy wants but they haven’t found the solution going forward yet.
Against Orient, Nichols and Teflord at times displayed their talent but they simply couldn’t get involved in the build-up. The front two were extremely isolated and had very little affect on the game. When Nichols did get arguably Crawley’s best chance of the game when Teddy Jenks squared the ball to him on a counter, he shot wide. The build-up play relies too heavily on the midfield with very little support from the attack.
How do you expect Crawley Town to line up? Any injuries or suspensions?
Corey Addai started on Saturday because as far as I know, Ellery Balcombe, Brentford loanee is carrying an injury from the Carlisle game. The club have recently signed a new goalkeeper but only on a one-month contract so I’d be surprised if Addai didn’t start again.
Due to Omole going off injured against Orient, Ogungbo will probably start left-back after playing well off the bench last time out. Francomb and Conroy should also start at centre-half together if Crawley want to stand any chance of progressing past Rovers. They’re by far their best partnership but Betsy could opt for some rotation. Travis Johnson should be nailed on at right-back but Brandon Mason, a summer signing who’s yet to appear for the Reds could feature somewhere across the back-line.
Teddy Jenks and James Balagizi played excellently on the weekend, so for me they have to start. James Tilly played well on the left-flank so I think he’ll start too. As for Jake Hessenthaler, this is where things get confusing.
Out of possession against Orient, Crawley lined-up with a back four and Hessenthaler would then drop deep and protect Francomb and Conroy. At first, it seemed Hessenthaler was playing right-wing but when Crawley did go forward, the defence would shift right, allowing Johnson to push forward and play wide-right, with the rest of the defence forming a back three. Regardless, Hessenthaler did play well against Orient but he could make way for the inclusion of Ashley Nadesan, the clubs number 10 who started on the bench on the weekend. He’s a brilliant playmaker and striker and could be the answer to their build-up play solutions.
The attack could be completely changed as Teflord and Nichols were so out of the mix on the weekend. But they are Betsy’s best options on paper so they could remain in the initial eleven.
A takeover was completed at the end of last season. It’s not your usual football ownership is it? How different are things at the club now and what’s the local view of the owners?
Crawley are attracting a lot of new fans at the moment with owners who know what they’re doing. The owners, WAGMI United realise the club needs investment and smart recruitment and that’s exactly what they’ve given them. A young manager with an innovative play-style, an array of new signings from League Two veterans to Premier League youngsters and many more subtle changes which have really benefitted the club.
When comparing last season to now, it’s a very different atmosphere with a lot of ambition. Their season-ticket holders have increased and after speaking to a few fans, with the Premier League becoming harder to access, Crawley is the perfect place right now to get their local football fix. It’s a different way of running things but in my opinion it’s the right way. They care about the club and signings an Adidas deal and the league’s reigning top scorer shows that.
Dominic Telford joined despite having a successful season at Newport. In the games you’ve seen of him, capable of replicating that form at all?
So far no. Against Orient he was very isolated and I don’t remember him having a shot. He seems talented at times but if he’s not getting the opportunities then he’s not going to score the goals. He was superb last season, and you can tell the owners are doing something right because he agreed to sign here, but Betsy still needs to work out how to get the best out of him.
Tom Nichols is also on the books, could he play a part and how is he viewed at Crawley?
He probably will play apart but he played similarly to Telford against Orient. Therefore, Betsy could switch up his attack completely and use this game to experiment for games going forward.
Which player could cause Bristol Rovers the most problems?
The player that could cause the most problems is without a doubt James Balagizi. On loan from Liverpool, Balagizi is a star in the making. He’s the most passionate and hard-working of the Crawley squad and he showed that against Orient. If the Reds were attack at all on the weekend, it was because of him. On the break, the 18-year-old was able to link-up the team really well and drive forward with the ball. Out of possession, he’s strong in the tackle and when he wins the ball back, he’ll immediately turn on the burners and look to create some form of attack.