the real fa cup

Tora Torres Rams Rams

Messi may have won the World player of the Year last night, but could he do it on a cold, wet and windy Monday night in Sussex, as the lazy journalist’s cliché goes? Well, probably he could yes, but it was Torres – Sergio, not Fernando – who did the business for Crawley last night, sealing Crawley’s place in the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first team in their history.

As giant killings go, it wasn’t much of a David vs Goliath fixture. There may be three divisions and 61 places separating the two sides, but with Crawley second in the Blue Square Premier with three games in hand over leaders AFC Wimbledon, and Derby in a poor run of form that has seen them slump to 13th in the league and third bottom of the form table, a cupset was always on the cards. It’s the reason that ESPN picked Crawley for the second time this season, having screened the 1-1 draw with League One Swindon Town in round two.

As mentioned over at the Half-Time Whistle, this was still a giant killing. Only four of Crawley’s starting XI commanded a fee – the rest were released by their clubs. The four players’ combined fees totalled £270-320K depending on various reports of fees.  Compare this to Derby’s starting XI of which six commanded transfer fees, totalling just over £4.1m.

It’s not just transfer fees that make this a giant killing. Of the starting XI for Crawley, only two players played above League Two level last season, whilst only two of Derby’s starting XI played below Championship level.  Although Crawley are rumoured to be paying high wages to their players (and Christ, with Steve Evans as manager, who knows what the players are being paid?), none of us know what Derby or Crawley pay their players, so it’s impossible to argue either way on this count.

So be in no doubt; this was a giant killing last night.

4,145 crammed into the Broadfield and the crowd seemed in good spirits, maybe it was the fact that we had proper tickets printed. Our normal efforts look like they’re written on the back of a fag packet.  Still, with such glaring typos as the ticket getting our website URL wrong (crawtleytown.co.uk anyone?), it’s unlikely the club are going to be looking particularly professional anytime soon.

In the ground, two banners caught the eye: one stated that Crawley have the real Torres which was amusing, although it looked like it had been painted by a child. The other was more toe-curling as it was a Chelsea flag with “Crawley” written on it. Criiiiinge. Right in front of the cameras too, so credit to the ten or twelve fans who stood in front of it in the second half. It’s been a bug bear of both myself and the Real FA Cup that some fans insist on wearing insignia of other clubs to lower league matches, but this was on a whole new level.

Onto the match itself, and Crawley were the better side for the first half. Savage was greeted in typical Crawley fashion with cried of “you’re a caaaaant”, and the crowd were in good voice. Pablo Mills proved my prediction in my preview right by giving the ball away in comical fashion several times as Crawley looked to settle their nerves and impose themselves on the game.

At Crawley, as at many non-league grounds, the crowd is right on top of the action, as Kris Commons found as he was catapulted over the security barriers via Glenn Wilson’s shoulder and landed flat on his back in front of the baying crowd. Looked painful as the picture below shows.

Kuipers, who conceded two penalties and received two red cards in his 5 games for Crawley, was at it again as a lovely weighted ball from Savage sent Chis Porter scampering clear – Kuipers dithered and finally lunged out. Porter touched the ball away but made the most of it as the referee awarded a penalty but spared the red card. Commons stepped up but his penalty was straight down the middle and Kuipers made the save to rapturous cheers.

Crawley continuously knocked at the door, and Scott Neilson hit the bar, before Kuipers turned provider as he hoofed a long ball down field which Derby failed to clear and Craig McAllister (signed on a free, not good enough for League One strugglers Exeter City last season) turned and drove the ball past Steven Bywater for 1-0. I now have to do an Arsene Wenger and admit that I didn’t see the Matt Tubbs challenge on Robbie Savage, but I’m reliably informed that it deserved a red. At half time, Crawley had been the better side with Derby’s only shot being the saved penalty.

Derby trudged out for the second half a few minutes before Crawley, and an amusing moment was had when a Crawley fan shouted at Bywater “did the manager send you out early because you’re shit”, to which Bywater turned to the crowd, grinned, nodded and winked, acknowledging that their performance hadn’t been good enough. The Crawley fans clapped him for his good humour and the game restarted.

An attritional second half in which Derby imposed themselves more was played in increasingly monsoonal conditions.  And it took until the hour mark for Kris Commons, who had gone into hiding since his penalty miss, to deliver a sweet cross for Miles Addison to end months of injury hell and seal his comeback with a bullet header in front of the visiting fans.

If Derby thought they would kick on and win it, they were wrong. This Crawley side were behind at Swindon despite being the better team, and came back and won it with late goals. This time round they kept battling and right at the death Torres thought he’d won it only to see a brilliant goal-line clearance from Paul Green to turn it behind.  From the resulting corner, Dean Howell passed the ball to the edge of the area for Sergio Torres to lash the ball home and send Crawley fans wild.

The scenes were marred by Crawley idiots running onto the pitch to celebrate the goal, but a few minutes later the final whistle blew and the fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate a remarkable day in the club’s history.

Although compared to Derby the sums Crawley have spent are tiny, compared to the rest of non-league they are large. This, coupled with the ever-hateable Steve Evans in charge means that few fans will enjoy Crawley’s success in the cup. But having lived through the Majeed era and the constant threat of going the way of Chester/Halifax and, indeed, Boston, it’s hard for Crawley fans not to feel they deserve some success.

Follow me on Twitter via @halftimewhistle and read my Half-Time Whistle blog for more flaky analysis of football.
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Thanks to Ryan from thehalftimewhistle for a great report on a tricky game to cover and this cracking photo from his trudge home>>

A RAM: DEFEATED

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