In what now seems like a spooky precursor to the United v Chelsea game that was played later in the afternoon, we were on the end of a 0-4 defeat despite not really deserving it.
We started brightly and used the ball well, remaining calm under pressure and building play until an opening was created and we got in down the flanks. Fin was full of running from the off and time after time was finding space in behind their left back and causing him considerable trouble. This was helped by Luis who was filling in at right back for the first period of the game and did an admirable job, linking up well down the line with Will and Fin.
Steve and Karl were working well together - Steve holding position more and dictating the play whilst Karl was full of energy and closing down their central players as well as helping out wide when we were getting overloaded.
Crawley Royals wanted to play on the break and their wide men seemed to be their outlet and where they planned to attack from. George again coped well with his man although got turned around a couple of times when outnumbered, this wasn't helped by Ryan and myself who both managed to slice a clearance that put him under some undue pressure. Ryan had another assured game at centre half, dealing with everything that came his way with ease.
As the first half developed both teams continued to find most success down the wings and it was from a break down the left that Crawley's first goal came. The ref blew for a foul which seemed very generous, and from the resulting free kick l was not tight enough to my man to force a clearance, he attempted some kind of flick that I anticipated he would connect with, but he didn't and the ball went straight past me and bounced into the corner of the net. There was nothing Rick, our stand in keeper, could have done, and I will accept full responsibility for the goal, sorry lads (I think I may have even given away the foul but not 100% on that).
Despite going a goal behind we continued to play a positive game and looked for quick, short passes to carve out an opening. Rich and his brother Graham had come onto the pitch from the bench and showed glimpses of the quality I know they both possess. Graham is well short of match fitness but there is a proper player in there.
As a result of one of my many changes Luis had moved further forward and soon found himself with the ball inside the 18 yard box, doing well to beat 2 men before letting fly from close range towards the bottom right corner with his left peg. Unfortunately their keeper pulled off a corker of a save to tip the ball wide for a corner, hats off to the lad, I even congratulated him on it.
We continued to create chances, with Will using his neat turns to find some space and having a couple of shots from around the 18 yard box that went slightly wide, and debutant Lee got in with just the keeper to beat but his attempted chip was just too high. Someone else skied it over from close range and I tried some ridiculous bicycle kick type thing from about 10 yards out that got charged down.
Half time came and we were unlucky to go in behind, with the majority of chances falling to us. If we had Opta stats then I think they'd have back up our apparent dominance too.
The second half was a bit of a disaster. We were light on defensive players and in order to give everyone a fair run out I ended up shifting the team around too much with continual substitutions and positional changes. This meant we were a bit all over the place defensively at times and allowed Crawley to score 3 more simple goals against us.
One of the goals saw myself and Steve, who was now playing centre half, get skinned in our own box like we were invisible before tapping home easily. I can't remember clearly what happened for the other two goals but they were along the same lines of the second - sloppy defending by a team that hadn't been instructed or set up properly. I hold my hands up that the scoreline was a reflection of my over use of substitutions and tinkering, but it certainly wasn't a reflection of the effort you lot put in.
We didn't really produce much of note in the second half. There were chances to score and we had the ball in their half a fair amount of time but the fluidity and clear cut chances that were there in the first half weren't apparent in the second. Fin made a good break through the middle just over halfway and looked to be bearing down on goal, only to unselfishly square the ball to Graham as he was being closed down, but the pass was overcooked and it went out for a goal kick, that kind of summed up our second half.
Despite losing 0-4 I'm not worried for the season ahead. We've shown enough in the three friendlies so far that we can dominate possession and carve teams open. We're still finding a balance between getting players forward to attack and then reverting to a solid defensive shape when we lose the ball. That will come with more experience playing together and when people are given a consistent role to grow into.
I'm not going to be making substitutions and rotating as much as I have been, so there will be some of us that find ourselves on the bench for longer periods. That's the way it's got to be though and everyone has been and will be getting a chance to prove themselves worthy of a start and being in the first eleven. We have a decent sized squad and we have competition for places. I want to see nothing short of giving it your all in every game, there is no excuse not to.
On that note, my man of the match is Karl. He ran his nuts off for pretty much every minute he was on the field and set an example for all of us to follow. Pre-season is mainly about obtaining match fitness and pushing yourself until you have nothing left in the tank. I know I came off that pitch with something left but I doubt Karl did and that is what it's all about. Fin also gets a merit badge for more of the same, he was terrorising their defensive line at times and put in some big tackles when putting them under pressure and planted that seed of fear in their heads that defenders don't like to have when they've got the ball at their feet.
I noticed a few incidents where one of us lost the ball to an opponent and reacted in frustration instead of determination. It's moments like that where we are gonna turn games in our favour or not. If you get tackled trying to take someone on, then don't stand there and get pissed off with yourself, find some aggression from somewhere and try your hardest to win the ball back or at least put them under some pressure. We all do it, but it's something we need to try to eradicate from our game if we are going to want to dominate and overpower teams.
If you haven't been mentioned in the report it's not because I think you did nothing worth writing about so don't take it personally. I can only remember so much and don't really want to spend hours writing these things! If you do desperately want to get a special mention then score a hattrick of overhead kicks from the halfway line next week...
P.S. I'm not going to mention Craig who had 2 weeks to get the kit washed and dried but still managed to deliver it to us still wet (fair play for dropping it off as you were unwell). You got paid 15 quid for that service mate, I'll be speaking to Trading Standards.