Crawley Town achieved "Project Promotion" from the Blue Square Premier to the Football League last season with 15 points to spare. Now for "Promotion: The Sequel."
Steve Evans, the manager, who coined both code names, believes that back-to-back elevations would represent "a miracle," and that the play-offs are a more realistic aim, but the bookmakers disagree. Only the other Red Devils, Manchester United, are at a shorter price to win their division than the West Sussex version.
Yesterday, Crawley followed last weekend's debut 2-2 draw at Port Vale by winning the club's first-ever home Football League game, seeing off Macclesfield. The victory extended Crawley's unbeaten League record to 32 matches, their last defeat in any competition by United at Old Trafford in last season's FA Cup fifth round.
The club won more matches than friends last season, rivals disliking their perceived wealth and conspicuous consumption of players. This summer, however, they paid a fee for only one new signing – Tyrone Barnett, from yesterday's visitors, who cost a reported £150,000 – and are restricted by Football Leaguerules that cap players' wages at55 per cent of turnover.
"We are not spending beyond our means because we are not allowed to," Alan Williams, the chief executive, said.
But is there the appetite for League Two football in the Sussex town? Its fans have traditionally looked towards the capital, but Crawley have sold over 1,100 season tickets – four times as many as a year ago – and want to attract on a regular basis more of the 9,000 who travelled to Old Trafford.
Yesterday there was a distinct sense of a curious crowd waiting to be entertained. Macclesfield paid Crawley the compliment of packing their defence and restricting the home side to long-range efforts in the first half apart from a half-volley from Matt Tubbs that Jose Veiga saved well.
But Crawley persevered with their neat passing game and Barnett scored the first Football League goal here after 57 minutes, leaping to head home Scott Davies' right-wing corner. The substitute Wesley Thomas doubled the lead after 75 minutes, beating Veiga to Hope Akpan's forward ball to score with a brave header.
"It's a real tough League and we've no right to be favourites," Evans said. "Do I expect promotion? No. Will we give ita good go? Of course."
Crawley Town (4-1-3-2): Shearer; Hunt, McFadzean, Wassmer, Howell; Akpan; Davies (Nielson, 72), Torres, Simpson; Barnett (Akinde, 88), Tubbs (Thomas, 72).
Macclesfield Town (5-4-1): Veiga; Bateson (Hewitt, 76), Brown, Brisley, Daigne, Tremarco; Tomlinson, Wedgbury, Chalmers (Grant, 68), Draper; Sinclair (Hamshaw, 72).
Referee Andy D'Urso.
Match rating 6/10
Man of the match Hunt (Crawley).