Liam Kelly clinches League One spot for Crawley with playoff defeat of Crewe

<span>Crawley’s Liam Kelly lifts the League Two playoff trophy in the air at Wembley.</span><span>Photograph: Paul Harding/Getty Images</span>
Crawley’s Liam Kelly lifts the League Two playoff trophy in the air at Wembley.Photograph: Paul Harding/Getty Images

Before a ball was kicked this season there was not a single team in League Two considered less likely to win promotion than Crawley Town. A little over seven months later, on a glorious afternoon at Wembley, they completed a triumphant playoff blitz by beating Crewe Alexandra 2-0 to secure a ludicrously far-fetched but indisputably deserved rise to League One.

Scott Lindsey’s side finished one place clear of relegation last ­season but this year surged to seventh, snatching a playoff place by ­winning on the final day while Barrow drew against Mansfield. Once there they blew MK Dons away in the semi-finals by the record-breaking aggregate score of 8-1 and carried that momentum to Wembley, where they brushed aside the challenge of a Crewe side that had already done the double over them this season to complete an astonishing ascent.

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“It’s not a miracle, it’s just hard work,” Lindsey said. “Because of past experience in my life, where I’ve lost loved ones really close to me, I understand life’s really short. Most people who were nearly relegated last season would probably think ­consolidation this year. But it’s not a word I have in my vocabulary. I think life’s too short to consolidate. I want to go for it every minute that I’m here. You might say it’s a miracle but it’s not, it’s just hard work and belief.”

His team certainly brimmed with those qualities, and at no stage of this match did they not look the better side. Once they took the lead shortly before half-time there were only a couple of minutes when the outcome seemed in any doubt, and it came soon after the interval when Adam Campbell’s woefully underhit back‑pass was seized upon by Chris Long and the match briefly shifted, and then resettled, on its axis.

This was the chance of the game, and the moment Crewe might have turned the tide – two of the thoughts that Long had time to ruminate on as he sprinted into 30 yards of ­solitude, with only Corey Addai between him and goal and no defender with the remotest chance of catching him. He ran into the area, drew the keeper, nudged the ball to his left and ­collapsed, but though the referee pointed to the spot it did not take the VAR long to notice that as Addai flung out his right foot he had touched the ball, and not the player.

Crawley had taken the lead in the 42nd minute through Danilo Orsi, and another minor miracle. Just three years ago the 28-year-old was a plumber and part-time footballer, and in each of his past two seasons he scored only two league goals. This was his 25th of this campaign and a moment of real quality, as he exchanged passes with the outstanding Liam Kelly, turned away from Ed Turns and speared a shot past Max Stryjek with the outside of his right foot.

The second half brought more chances, but Stryjek saved from Kelly and Kellan Gordon, and Ronan Darcy, on as a substitute, sliced wide. With five minutes to go Kelly got the goal that sealed promotion, and that his performance deserved: again he tried to find Orsi but the ball deflected back to him off Mickey Demetriou and, with Stryjek off his line having anticipated a cross, he passed into an empty net.

“It’s been a real stretch for my ­players. I think we’ve got one of the smallest squads,” Lee Bell, the Crewe manager, said. “I’m ever so proud of where we’ve got to and bitterly disappointed just for them as ­individuals. We really struggled to get going and create anything. So full credit to them, I think they were worthy winners. We can’t have any complaints.”