Crawley Town may have struggled to adapt to life in League Two last season, but under new boss Dermot Drummy, the Red Devils look like a totally new side – and the club’s Summer transfer business means they essentially are.
Gone is the deadwood, replaced with previously little-known gems, while last season’s lack of tactical direction has been replaced by a slick system.
So, can they really defy those 66/1 odds to lift the League Two title? Well, they have plenty going in their favour. That’s because…
They’re mining Non-League talent
Boss Dermot Drummy has brought in a number of talented players on a modest budget, and several of his most exciting buys have come from Non-League.
Midfield enforcer Josh Payne has slotted in well since arriving from Eastleigh, while fleet-footed creator Billy Clifford (from Boreham Wood) and bruising defender Daniel Pappoe have added a perfect balance of ferocity and flair to the Red Devils’ squad.
The latter two both graduated from the Chelsea Reserves setup where Drummy spent three years as manager from 2011-14. But he’s also looked further afield for talented youngsters, with Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn already impressing at the Checkatrade.com Stadium.
Drummy can nurture young talent
Having guided Chelsea’s youngsters to an Under-21 Premier League title in 2013-14, there’s no doubt the Crawley boss is the right man to guide this young and hungry side.
While a few experienced heads have rightly remained, in the form of Matt Harrold and captain Jimmy Smith, 12 members of Drummy’s 21-man squad are under the age of 24, including Chelsea loan pair Mitchell Beeney and Alex Davey.
And the connection with the Premier League giants can only be a good thing for the West Sussex outfit, with the new boss able to bring in both high-quality players and guys who already know the Drummy method.
They’ve found a winning tactical formula
OK, so these are early days in the season, but the Red Devils appear to be building a system which is causing opponents plenty of hassle.
Away from home, the more cautious 4-4-1-1 system has paid dividends with a draw at promotion hopefuls Doncaster Rovers, while it nearly got Crawley a result in the League Cup as they lost narrowly to uber-rich Championship heavyweights Wolverhampton Wanderers in the League Cup.
At home, Drummy appears to favour a more attacking 4-3-3, and that set-up downed Wycombe Wanderers on the opening day in League Two. Having looked disorganised for much of last season, there’s now clearly a successful structure in place for Crawley’s players. And that’s something many of their opponents lack.
There are no outstanding candidates this year
Last season, it was always going to be Northampton Town’s title. They won the opening couple of games – something no side has managed in League Two this year – and went undefeated in 24 successive games in 2016. There’s no such foe for Crawley to overcome this season.
Portsmouth are already flattering to deceive, with many people’s favourites opening the campaign with a pair of dull draws. Meanwhile, last year’s play-off finalists Plymouth Argyle are bottom of the division having failed to keep onto key men like Gregg Wylde and Curtis Nelson.
That lack of Northampton-esque quality at the top end of the division can only be a good thing for the Red Devils, whose current rate of two points a game could well be enough to secure the league crown.
They have plenty of promotion experience
History has a funny way of weighing on a club, and in last season’s title race the pressure seemed to weigh heavily on those clubs whose fans have waited years for promotion. Accrington Stanley – who have never played at a higher level than League Two – buckled in the play-offs despite their undeniable quality.
Crawley have notched up two promotions in the last six seasons, winning Non-League’s top tier by a whopping 15 points (with an astonishing 105-point haul). And they’ve come up automatically from League Two since – spending two years in the third-tier.
Would you bet against them getting back there in style this time out?
Crawley Town head to Exeter on Tuesday, with the Red Devils well worth backing at 3/1 to win against a Grecians side who have taken a mere two points from their last eight league outings.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing