John Gregory is not the kind of man to accept mediocrity.
When he took over at the Checkatrade.com Stadium last December he stated his goal was to lead Crawley to promotion.
Considering Reds had failed to win in their previous eight games – scoring just once in the process – that claim was greeted with a few sniggers from the gathered media but Gregory was deadly serious.
A play-off push never really materialised but finishing down in 14th spot and being forced to trim his budget has not dimmed any of the former Aston Villa manager’s optimism.
The bookies have priced Crawley as 3-1 to go down this season compared to 12-1 to achieve promotion to the Championship and they are rarely wrong.
But, after completely overhauling his squad during the summer by bringing in 17 new signings, Gregory is confident he can defy those odds.
The 60-year-old will not simply be happy if he leads Reds to their highest ever finish in the Football League by eclipsing the tenth place Richie Barker achieved two years ago.
Gregory is setting the bar even higher and has stuck his neck out by claiming that if Crawley do not end the campaign in the top eight then he will have failed.
He said: “I strive for perfection so I want to finish top. That is what I’m going to aim for. It is going to be exceptionally tough but you have got to aim as high as you can.
“If we don’t quite make it and finish fourth or fifth than I’ll be ecstatic but I expect us to finish in the top eight without any questions. Anything below that is total failure.”
Gregory is under no illusions how difficult it will be to achieve his target considering the size of the club’s Crawley will be competing against this season.
Clubs such as Sheffield United, Bristol City, Peterborough and Preston all boast resources – both financial and in terms of facilities – which dwarf those of Crawley.
Chief executive Michael Dunford claimed Reds had the eighth largest budget in League One last season but that is no longer the case following a huge cost-cutting operation.
Assets including Kyle McFadzean and Andy Drury were sold during the summer and big earners Billy Clarke, Paul Jones, Mark Connolly and Mike Jones were released.
Gregory has paid small fees for Gavin Tomlin, Jimmy Smith and Sonny Bradley but has also snapped up Emmett O’Connor, Bobson Bawling and Charles Banya from the bargain basement.
He added: “There are more than eight clubs with a bigger budget than us and in most leagues the rich clubs usually finish in the top positions.
“Last season there was only one club who had smaller average attendance than us (Stevenage) so that shows what we are up against.
“We are underdogs but I quite like the challenge of being the underdog. It is asking enormous amount to finish in the top eight considering our budget but anything less won’t be good enough for me.”
Getting off to a good start is imperative if Gregory is to achieve his goal but that will not be easy.
Reds kick off the campaign at relegated Barnsley today and then face Swindon, Bradford and Sheffield United in their next three games.
Gregory added: “It is an exceptionally tough start. I wouldn’t suggest anybody is any easier than anybody else in this league but we have got to play some very big clubs in the first few weeks.
“Barnsley have just come out of the Championship, Bradford play in front of 14,000 people most weeks and then we’ve got to go to Bramall Lane and MK Dons.
“But it will sort us out. You’ve got to play them all at some time and I have no doubt we will be ready at 3pm today.”
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