Tony Russell says the decision to take his Lewes team “back to basics” last month has paid off as the Rooks seek to go a sixth game unbeaten on Saturday when travelling to Brightlingsea Regent.
Lewes have won two and drawn three of the last five outings, and have games in hand over teams fighting for the Isthmian Premier League playoff spots.
The Rooks ground out a 1-1 draw with Aveley in horrible conditions at the Dripping Pan on Tuesday and focus now turns to a visit to Brightlingsea this Saturday.
Russell says he’s been pleased by the uptick in both results and performances recently. But he wants the Rooks to capitalise on this progress.
“After that Herne Bay game we went back to basics. We coached from the back and made sure we’re hard to beat,” says Russell.
“We corrected our shape without the ball and when we lose it, we made sure our full-backs are invited forward when we have possession, rather than just bombing forward.
“We stripped it all back and have built the team up again. And I said to the players how defensively we now look good, we’re five games unbeaten, and we’ve faced some tough teams.
“But what’s really noticeable is Lewis Carey’s not had a lot to do. I don’t remember him making any big saves of note – maybe one against Aveley from outside the box – and that’s it. Teams aren’t opening us up, so the next phase is working on going forward, decision making and imagination.”
‘We’ve got a real good group’
Lewes sit 12th in the Isthmian Premier League and could rise to as high as seventh with a win on Saturday.
Russell adds: “It feels like we’re well on the road of progress. We’ve got a real good group that is willing to learn and teach each other. It’s a strong environment to be around and it’s hard on them because I don’t believe they’ve got the points total they deserve so far.
“But if they keep tuning it up then we’ll get somewhere this season. I’m still looking and maybe we can bring in one or two more.”
Time for expansive football
Joe Taylor got the leveller against Aveley on Tuesday but the Rooks couldn’t force a winner as the wind and rain bore down on the Pan.
Looking back at the game, Russell reckons it was indicative of how the season has gone so far, and knows where the team needs further improvement.
“We didn’t create enough chances for the possession we had, which is why we only scored one. And we can address this now we’ve sorted out the basics. I’m looking to open up now, take the shackles off and get some goals,” Russell says.
“We knew we’d have most of the ball and they would bank in and try and counter us, which they did. Their goal came out of nowhere. And from there it was all about us.
“The weather conditions for both sets of players were tricky with 40mph winds, but what we benefit from is being able to pass it on the floor. Whereas they were kicking it long, we kept calm and passed it around, and eventually got that goal.
“That game was proof again that we’re a very good side, especially on that pitch where we can play exciting football for the fans. We’re better than we were last season in terms of being able to control the game for longer periods.
“Five games ago we said amongst ourselves that we needed more control and needed to be harder to beat. Since then we’ve gone five unbeaten, sorted out our defensive line and bedded in.
“Now the next stage is to be more expansive, be braver with our passes and get more bodies around the box. We didn’t do enough to beat Aveley and a point was about right, but it was also a sign of progress. Now we have to convert this into more chances, more goals and wins. And that will come in the next few weeks I’m sure of that.”
Focus on Brightlingsea
Lewes beat Brightlingsea 4-0 in Essex last season but were held to a 2-2 draw at the Pan. Brightlingsea were three points off the drop last season and have won two in 13 this term, with victories coming at home against Billericay and Margate.
The club has brought in new players and staff for the season, and Russell says the changes at Brightlingsea means he’s more focused about perfecting the Rooks’ game on Saturday, than worrying about the opposition.
“Away from home Brightlingsea seem to struggle but at home they’ve beaten Margate and Billericay. I don’t want to be on the end of that,” Russell says.
“They’re actually hard to scout because they go through a lot of players, so you’re never 100 percent knowing what you’re walking into. Their manager is different from the one last year, and that turnover of staff and players means there’s more need to focus on ourselves, rather than them. Even since I got my scouting report four players have left.
“So the focus isn’t on Brightlingsea but on our standards. Any away game in this league is hard, we’ve got to go there and match their enthusiasm, run more and have more desire. And from there we impose our style on the game.
“It’s not about going there thinking we’ll just win… well the last time we did that we conceded four at Herne Bay, who were right down there. That was a real wake-up call, we learned our lesson since then. And guess what? We haven’t lost since then.
“In this league there are no easy games. We have to go there, assess who is fit and available, and play the Lewes way. Brightlingsea I’m not worried about too much, we’ll give them respect but we need to focus on ourselves. And if we play as well as I know we can, we’ll win – and that goes for any team in this league.”
Brightlingsea vs Lewes kicks off at 3pm. Fans can buy tickets on the gate at North Road, with tickets for adults (£12), concessions (£7), 12-18s (£4) and U12s (£1).