Lewes boss Tony Russell admits he is waiting on the injury status of a few of his players heading into this weekend’s Isthmian Premier League game at Billericay Town.
Lewes travel to Essex on Saturday seeking to bounce back from defeat to Three Bridges in the week, in which the manager had to make do without a number of first-team players.
The Rooks sit 12th in the table but have played two fewer games than some of those around them, and a win could lift Russell’s side back into the playoffs.
“In Billericay we’re playing a team that are at the complete opposite end to where we are at,” says Russell.
“They had a really tough start despite having a great squad, and that’s probably a hangover from them getting relegated. But they’ve turned it around, winning their last games 4-0 and 3-0. They have exceptional players who are confident and excitable.
‘Unity is more productive than division’
“We have to go to their patch and perform, even though we don’t know who will be fit yet. Razz Coleman De-Graft, Bradley Pritchard and Kenneth Yao weren’t fit enough to train in the week but I’m hopeful. So it will be a little bit last-minute to see which of them are available. Marcel Elva-Fountaine will be back, which is great.
“We have to take our medicine, block out the outside noise, get our heads down and work hard for each other. Unity is more productive than division.
“I know we’re in such a fickle industry that only a few weeks ago we were down to 10 men against one of the best sides in the league at home and we won the game and were lauded. Even in the FA Cup – the competition some people think we don’t want to progress in – we managed to luckily win 8-0. That’s a record for the club.”
Russell also wants to lay bare his decision making on Tuesday night.
“This suggestion the management and staff don’t care about the FA Cup is ridiculous,” says Russell.
“We need to explain some of the things that people have been questioning. Such as ‘why did we put the side out that we did on Tuesday’ and ‘why didn’t we make the changes to react to it’.
“Well the bottom line is this: Tom Champion was out, Marcel was cup tied, Tom Phipp played his first 90 minutes from coming back from injury so he was stiff.
“I asked our physio if Razz, Bradley and Ken were available and she said we’d see how they were in the morning of the game. But we couldn’t see all three of them going away for one day and suddenly being ready.
“You run the risk of exacerbating it. What if Bradley’s calf had gone, or Razz’s groin? You lose them for six to eight weeks.
“We carry a squad of 16 senior players, have a really talented 17-year-old in Fraser Middleton-Tozer and a 17-year-old goalkeeper. We’ve got 18 players, but we had six out of the game on Tuesday.
“Obviously fans might question why we wouldn’t bring Razz or Pritch on when two-goals down. But I couldn’t.
“Razz would do anything for us. But what do I do? We have a group of players who, like Razz, genuinely care for the club and would play on one leg for Lewes.
“But I have that decision to make as a manager. Imagine if we’d played all three, and all three got injured and were out for a couple of months. Then we’re bang in trouble.”
‘Our fans are fantastic’
Russell had the players back in on Wednesday training in preparation for Saturday’s trip to Billericay. And the boss was able to use the session to put the FA Cup defeat behind them.
“When I ran training the first part of that session we had to address some of the stuff that’s been said about them,” says Russell. “I appreciate everyone’s disappointment and we’re disappointed – we’re all on the same team here. Our fans are fantastic, passionate and I love it. Their support gets us through tough times. To have over 1,000 supporters per game is mind-blowing. But it feels there are certain people who take great pleasure in kicking people when they’re down. And I want you to print that, because it’s true.”
Focus on Billericay
Billericay Town dropped down from the National League South last season after failing to avoid relegation by just two points.
They’ve since recorded two wins from seven outings in the Isthmian Premier League, and come into this clash having beaten Haringey Borough 3-0 on Tuesday.
Boss Dan Brown also oversaw a 2-1 triumph over Cray Wanderers on the opening day of the season, while Billericay have progressed through the first two qualifying rounds of the FA Cup.
Alfie Cerulli, 21, is Billericay’s top scorer for the season so far with six goals across all competitions. It was Cerulli’s late strike that earned Billericay their win against Cray.
Discussing Saturday’s opposition, Russell says: “It’s a 3G pitch, they get a good crowd, and while they’ve had their tough couple of years they’re still a good team.
“It is a place, though, that if you can go there, dominate, play freely and create things the crowd can turn. They get big crowds, they’ve vocal, it’s a proper football club. And we know about a lot of their players.
“Michael Chambers, the captain, I’ve tried to sign him on numerous occasions, having followed him since he was at Dulwich Hamlet and Crystal Palace. A brilliant centre-half, good on the ball and a great lad as well.
“Toby Stevenson at left-back scored a hat-trick with Charlton’s first team. He’s a very good player. Bradley Stevenson I had at Cray on loan from Gillingham, he reminds me of Ollie Tanner. He’s probably one of their best players.
“Chris Dixon has been a pro footballer at Charlton, the boy’s a goalscorer. Alfie out wide was in with us last year in pre-season, he’s a very good player. Anthony Jeffrey, if fit, is one of the best wingers at our level of football, he was at Wrexham a couple of years ago.
“They’ve got talent all over the pitch. On paper Billericay are as good as anyone in our league and are a top-four side on paper. I don’t know why they got off to a slow start but they seem to have picked up now and are in good form.
“We’ll get the best version of Billericay on Saturday and we have to go to their place, roll our sleeves up, work hard for each other and stick to our gameplan. Yes we might be licking our wounds a little bit but this is what we’re in the game for.
“If it was easy then anyone could do it. That’s what separates the average managers and teams from the good managers and teams. You earn your crust in these situations. It’s up to me and Vinsey to shake the boys up, block out the noise and get back to doing what we do best.”
‘In a perverse sort of way I enjoy it’
On his team selection, Russell adds: “My main concern is what team I can put out. If we can get our best side on the pitch it will be a really good game. It has the nature to be very open as both sides are attack-minded.
“But I just need to get some positive news about the injuries. Of course, one day it feels like the world’s against you and there are injuries across the squad, you try something and it completely backfires.
“But then other days you’re cruising on the back of a string of wins. But like I said, that’s not where we earn our crust. It’s now when things are tough.
“And in a perverse sort of way I enjoy it, because I’m looking forward to turning things around, getting us going again and proving that positivity is greater than negativity. I’ll use this criticism as fuel to drive us on. I’ve done it before in my 12 years doing this job, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”
Billericay vs Lewes FC kicks off at 3pm on Saturday and tickets are available on the gate at New Lodge, with prices starting at £12 for adults, £7 Concessions, £5 young adults and £1 for U11s. Supporters should note that it’s card payment for entry and in the ground.