Lewes FC manager Tony Russell admits the defeat to Wingate & Finchley last weekend was a steep learning curve for him and the players, and is determined to get back to winning ways this Saturday.
The 3-2 home defeat to Wingate & Finchley ended an upturn in form for the Rooks that has given Russell’s men a fighting chance of making the Isthmian Premier League playoffs this season.
Lewes struggled on a dry pitch at the Dripping Pan and fared better in the second half when going more direct, yet ultimately couldn’t outscore a well-drilled Wingate outfit.
Victory over fellow playoff-chasers Cheshunt could go a long way to securing Lewes that crucial fifth place in the table.
And Russell admits both he and the team is still evolving as we near the end of the season.
‘I have to hold my hands up’
“It wasn’t the result we wanted. I thought for the first 20 minutes our defencing was nothing short of ridiculous,” says Russell.
“Fair play to Wingate, they scored two and probably should have scored more. We were fortunate to come in at 2-2 and we changed it a little bit and went a little bit more direct in the second half, and created more chances.
“As a supporter it must be frustrating because you watch that team on the Tuesday (2-0 win over Margate) play so well and then you come five days later and watch that performance.
“I need to take responsibility for that, and also there are two completely different pitches. On Tuesday it rained a few hours before so it was nice and slick and allowed us to do what we want in terms of our patterns. But on Saturday it was dry and rock hard. They were two completely different surfaces and it’s hard to ask for that consistency.
“That’s where I have to hold my hands up. The players came in from the warm-up and said the ball was jumping around. I should have called it and gone a bit more direct.
“We’ve done that in away games – Folkestone away on that sort of pitch and we played more direct. That’s something I have to work on. There have probably been a couple of other times at home this season when I should have called it and gone more direct. Because our home form is not good enough – it’s the home form of a mid-table side.
“It’s hard to get promoted when you’ve only won 10 games at home. So that’s a big thing we need to manage. We manage it away – we scout the pitch and work out what we can do on it, which is why we have one of the best away records in the league.
‘Saturday was a learning curve’
“I’ve never been in this position where I’ve needed to do this for home games. But last Saturday was a learning curve for me.
“I see myself as a student of the game and am always learning, but your pride takes over sometimes. I want to show ourselves to our home fans, I want to show ourselves away from home, and show what these players can do. But if the pitch isn’t going to be there to allow us to do that, bobbling away, then we can’t do it.
“These boys are so honest they will do what I ask, when it’s working from the back and playing through patterns. So I have to take the blame, no critics for the players.”
On his own management style, Russell says: “I’m just one of these people who enjoys watching good football, enjoys coaching and working, manipulating formations.
“So to come to football and to stand there and say ‘clip it into areas and work off the big man’ I struggle with that. It’s not what I’m in the game for. I’m not always a ‘win at all costs’ man. But I trust that the process looks after itself with playing good patterns, so those who just want results are as happy as I am.
“But we’re not on line at the moment. But I was really upset on Saturday and it was a tough one to take.”
This Saturday sees the Rooks travel to Cheshunt seeking to better the 2-2 draw played out between these two sides at the Dripping Pan back in August.
Goals from Razz Coleman De-Graft and Joe Taylor earned the Rooks a point that day. And Russell is wary of what to expect when the team rocks up at Theobalds Lane.
‘Stick with us!’
“It’s going to be a tough game. We keep shooting ourselves in the foot a bit. But we’ve got a brilliant group of players and we’ve had good chat about our set-back,” says Russell.
“We’ve debriefed, looked at the Wingate game, watched the video and are looking now to Saturday. Cheshunt are a really good side. They’ll go direct, get bits off that, take long throws into the box. So we’re going to have to stand up and be counted.
“They’ve a great manager who will have them fired up, so if we’re not up for it and we don’t want to get down and dirty and fight, then we’re going to get dragged into deep waters.
“I have huge belief in these boys. And off the back of the disappointment last week, we’ve dusted ourselves off and we go again.
“I still believe in this squad. We’re good enough to win four games out of four. But we’ve just got to go and prove that now. I understand it’s frustrating – trust me, I’m frustrated! But stick with us, we’re going to give our all for the club and it all starts again on Saturday.”
Cheshunt vs Lewes FC kicks off at 3pm on Saturday. Tickets can be bought in advance for a discount via Cheshunt’s club website.