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EFL Player in Focus: Bez Lubala

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A strong start for Beryly Lubala

Bez Lubala is proving a wonderful signing for Crawley Town.

This week, Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) takes a look at how the young, exciting forward has come to be the joint-second top goalscorer in League Two at this early stage – and examines his future prospects.

Early promise with Blues

He enjoyed an impressive 2018 pre-season with Birmingham City, in which performances against Cheltenham Town and other clubs hinted that he could be a very good player below the Championship.

Lubala even made numerous substitute appearances early in the 2018-19 campaign under Garry Monk; he featured in the opening day 2-2 draw with Norwich, he started the EFL Cup defeat at Reading then two cameo appearances in October wins over Rotherham and Reading.

Downhill after October

After that, though, Lubala did not play any part in senior action for Blues, due to the likes of Jota, Jacques Maghoma and Connor Mahoney providing more proven quality as the wide options in a 4-2-2-2.

The 21-year-old was subsequently confined to Under-23s action and, although he was offered a new contract at St Andrews in May, he later rejected that offer and sought first-team football at a lower level.

Whether Birmingham should have done more to make Lubala feel wanted as part of the main squad remains to be seen, although with the likes of Fran Villalba and Dan Crowley signing it might have been difficult for him to get a first league start for the club under Pep Clotet.

Crawley gain an asset

Still, Crawley Town did very well to land the one-time Leicester Nirvana youth product on a free transfer.

The two-year deal means not only do they have the benefits of the versatile forward’s services, they also have him as a saleable asset, which is a huge plus for Town, given that they are not able to spend their way to success in quite the same way that they did earlier this decade.

Five goals in six

Lubala has started strongly for the Red Devils, with a remarkable five goals in his first six appearances in all competitions – only Ollie Palmer, Ashley Nathaniel-George and Dominic Poleon reached the five-goal mark throughout the whole of the previous campaign.

Lubala offers an out-ball to the left; he has the willingness to drive past his opposing right-back or run directly at centre-backs and get a shot away in transition, as we saw for his goals against Carlisle and Crewe.

He also has an innate understanding of Crawley’s plan to mix up their set pieces by sometimes going short.

In the opener in the 2-2 draw at Scunthorpe, he provided the sharp movement from a left-sided free-kick that deceived the opposing rear-guard, before firing home the opener.

Then, in Tuesday night’s impressive 1-0 EFL Cup victory over Norwich, it was in fact Lubala himself who took the corner short, before Nathan Ferguson laid it back for the attacking midfielder to finish off the routine.

Change in recruitment?

More than the goals themselves, though, Lubala’s performances highlight a new side to Crawley Town.

Part of the reason fans never united behind Harry Kewell, even when the team was in good form, was because the possession play was at times rather stale and predictable.

The following season, the club signed players of on paper high-profile like Filipe Morais and Dominic Poleon, but again there was a lethargy about the team, which looked disjointed for much of Gabriele Cioffi’s first seven months in charge.

This year, though, the club have signed young, hungry players with a point to prove – Lubala being one of several – and thus, we are seeing a team that presses with intensity and hunger, managing as many as 30 shots in the 2-0 victory over Salford in week two.

Bright season ahead for Lubala and Crawley?

Crawley’s early performance data, as well as their return of eight points and nine goals from their first five league games, suggests that they will improve drastically on last season’s 19th-placed finish.

If they do, Lubala is likely to be the star – and it may not be too long before attractive offers of a Championship return come his way.