By Tony Leighton
With a team lying just two places above the relegation zone, in 19th, it takes a bold manager to predict that his team can aim for the Play-Offs with only two months of the season remaining. But that's exactly the target for Crawley Town boss John Gregory.
At first glance the Sky Bet League 1 table suggests that Gregory is being over-ambitious to say the least. Looking again, you'll see that the Red Devils, after a weather-enforced month of postponements, have at least three and up to seven games in hand on the teams currently sitting above them.
What's more, Gregory, despite his side being set to play their final 20 games in 68 days - starting with a trip to eighth-placed Swindon Town on Tuesday evening - reckons that the spell of inactivity has had its benefits as well as drawbacks.
The former Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Derby County and Queens Park Rangers manager, back in England after spells working in Israel and Kazakhstan, told football-co.uk: "The break has been really frustrating for the players, but they deserve a lot of credit for the way they've been.
"I've just been going in each day and telling them where we're going and what we're doing. We've been training on Astroturf, going into the gym, just trying to do everything we can to keep them switched on - and they've been great.
"It has been rather frustrating, but the break has also helped us to reinforce. If we hadn't had the break it would have been a bit more difficult to have carried on playing with such a small squad.
"As the games have been called off we've been able to shuttle a couple (of players) in. We signed Paul Connolly on a Friday and he wouldn't have been able to play on the Saturday or the next Tuesday, but both games were called off and so now he'll be available when those two matches come round."
Connolly is one of five players signed - two on short term deals and three on loan - by Gregory during his team's month without a fixture. "The quality of the squad has gone up," said the experienced 59-year-old manager.
"If I look at my bench now I've got some quality I can turn to, and that wasn't the case five weeks ago. So that side of things has improved, and on Tuesday night I could make three or four changes from Saturday's starting line-up."
The Red Devils ended their break from action with a 2-1 win against seventh in the table Walsall at the weekend, following fine results including a victory over leaders Leyton Orient and draws with fourth-placed Preston North End and Rotherham United, in fifth, since Gregory was appointed manager in December.
Now they take on eighth-placed Swindon Town as they begin the long trek to the end of the season.
"It's a crazy schedule, said Gregory, "but we're looking forward to it.
"We're just looking upwards, and we're trying to target the Play-Offs. It's going to be a huge ask, but if we keep playing as well as we have been then it's not beyond us."
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