The Earthquake machine in operation.

by Richard Brook

A winter break has been a much talked about potential introduction to English football for many years, whether for the protection of players, pitches or to accommodate a deeply controversial choice of World Cup host by FIFA. As topical a subject as it may be, no-one was expecting the unlikely and unscheduled pilot scheme to be undertaken by Crawley Town.

Who could have known, on January 25th 2014, when Kieran Agard fired home an equaliser for Rotherham United, in the sixth minute of time added on against the Red Devils, that it would be the last football that Crawley played for almost a month?

Thanks to a series of postponements due to water-logged pitches, not least their own, that is the scenario that Crawley faced up until Saturday when they finally played a match, away to Walsall. The enforced break did not appear to have disrupted the Red Devils as they ran out 2-1 winners, thanks to a brace from Matt Tubbs. The striker converted a penalty after four minutes, and headed in a Billy Clarke cross, close range, in the opening minutes of the second half. The Saddler’s replied as Sam Mantom turned home Craig Westcarr’s corner. Clarke was dismissed having received a second yellow card for time wasting, but Crawley saw out the last ten minutes regardless.

The club, who have a history of issues with their pitch, have played just one home game since December 29th and had seen their last five matches home and away postponed. Crawley’s efforts have been hindered by the wettest winter since records began and the club acknowledge the need to address the long term issue in the summer. Meanwhile in the short term, it is a situation that has seen the club resort to quite literally earth shattering measure to remedy the situation at the stadium. The club have brought in a machine called Earthquake. Chief Executive Michael Dunford explained:

“The Earthquake literally shakes the ground up. In recent weeks water has not been able to get through the surface because of a black silt layer directly under the surface. I would like to thank all those supporters who have worked so hard, with our staff, to try and get the last two games played.”

Crawley’s last home game was against Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup back on Jan 8th.

At the time of the 2-2 draw at the New York stadium Crawley were sitting 15th in the League One table, and already had a game or two in hand on most teams in the division. On 25 games and 31 points they have remained for four weeks. As the side prepared for Saturday’s trip to Walsall, they sat in 20th place – only kept out of the relegation places by the fact their superior goal difference.

Yet John Gregory’s men now have seven games in hand on some clubs, and six on many sides. Of course this is bound to lead to fixture congestion as we reach the business end of the season, which is always disruptive and physically demanding for players. On the other hand, while unlikely, maximum points from six games would put Crawley on 52 points which would currently put them level on points with the last play-off spot.

There is nothing in Crawley’s recent – or as recent as is possible – form to indicate such a climb might happen, but in the six games prior to their month without a match they took nine points, by winning twice, drawing three and losing once. The run was sufficient for them to occupy eighth place in the League One form table.

The Crawley players headed to the Midlands on Thursday just to get an opportunity to train on grass ahead of the Walsall fixture. The club have made use of the facilities in Burton, at the FA’s National Centre, and of Bodymoor Heath – the training ground of one of John Gregory’s former club’s Aston Villa. Captain Josh Simpson commented:

“It has been such a frustrating month. But we will get two good days of preparation in on grass, although the training has been really good over the last month and the boys have remained positive.”

The true effects of such a long break midway through the season have yet to be seen, but the Red Devil’s have hit the ground running by beating Walsall. Crawley will undoubtedly hope to pick up where they left off, as the run of postponements has drawn the club towards the relegation places, when their form hardly warrants it. Before the bizarre misfortune regarding the weather and the surfaces they have been due to play on they were a mid-table team, and on a mid-table run of form. If they are able to take nine points from their six rearranged fixtures, as they did in their last six games, they would be level with the 10th  placed side in the division as it stands.

Crawley play away at Swindon Town on Tuesday, but are due to play at home again on March 1st . Hopefully the club’s efforts to improve the pitch are a success and the weather is kind, so that the club can catch up their postponed fixtures for their own sake, that of their fans and indeed the rest of the division, so that a clearer picture of the League One standings can be established.