Tony Russell says a team bonding exercise following last week’s defeat to Bishop’s Stortford has injected positivity back into the squad – and the mission is now on to pick up results in the chase for a playoff spot.
The 1-0 loss last weekend means Lewes remain sixth in the Isthmian Premier League and six points off the playoff places with seven games remaining.
A spate of injuries before kick off on Saturday meant Russell’s men were stretched, but held firm until the final minute of injury time, when Ben Marlow let rip from distance to hand the visitors three points.
Russell admits the squad was frustrated after the game – but a team bonding session on Monday has everyone in renewed high spirits heading into this weekend’s trip to Folkestone.
“That’s as low as we’ve been, I’m not going to lie,” says Russell.
“The boys were pretty flat after the game. They put such a massive effort in and I was so proud of them, they played so well.
“There were some positives in there though. I thought there were some really good performances – Casey Pettit played his best game for us, Tom Carlse had his best game in a long time, Michael Klass came on and did really well, and it was great to see Mitch Nelson back playing really well.
“So there were loads of positives and that’s what we’ve spoken about this week. We have to be positive and lift this lot, because otherwise it becomes negative. You look online and a few people are saying negative things, a lot of doom and gloom. So we have to lift that. We’ve got to shut it out.
‘The noise and buzz in training was brilliant
“So we took the boys on a team bonding session on Monday to quasar and had a bit of fun with that, just to get the lads laughing and joking again, coming together. When they come together they can relate that enjoyment and fun, and we wanted to get that back, which we did.
“On Wednesday we trained really well. The noise and buzz in training was brilliant – so we’re coming into games positive now. We know the position we’ve put ourselves in isn’t ideal. However we haven’t come this far just to come this far.
“So we’re going to stay positive and attack every single game. We’re not giving up. We have Folkestone on Saturday and they’re going to be a good side, but they’re a hurdle in our way and we’ve got to kick the hurdles down.”
Targeting the double
Lewes travel to Folkestone seeking to do the double over Neil Cugley’s side. An early goal from Ollie Tanner put the Rooks in front at the Dripping Pan back in November, before Taylor Maloney and Joe Taylor popped up with injury-time strikes to seal a 3-0 victory.
Folkestone currently occupy fifth spot in the league – the final playoff place. And Russell hopes his side’s luck changes soon.
“The boys have been battling and giving everything they’ve got, and they’re just a little bit out of form,” says the boss.
“We’re just not creating enough chances. We’re having plenty of pressure and a lot of the ball, but we’re just not conveying that into chances and then into goals.
“At the moment everything that could go wrong is going wrong. It’s football. We need a little bit of luck and at the moment we’re just not getting it. That’s football and everyone goes through it – there’s no hard-up stories here but it’s just the way it’s going for us.
“I thought we played really well (against Bishop’s Stortford), had a lot of the ball and I thought we matched their enthusiasm. If anything I thought we ran over them in midfield but again we’re just not creating enough chances.
“We’re getting in the areas but the final decision, shots and crosses, we didn’t work the goalkeeper too hard. They soaked the pressure up and right at the end, with the last kick of the game, we lose to a sucker punch.”
‘We’re building something’
Almost 1,000 supporters cheered on the Rooks at the Dripping Pan last weekend, and Russell is well aware of the high expectations he and his team has set this season.
“I understand our supporters get frustrated but I ask you to look how far we’ve come in such a short space of time,” he adds.
“Compare us to teams over the last 10 years. I believe we’re ahead of that, are building here and we’ve got some exciting things coming next year too. We need you to support us.
“These boys have given everything to this football club – they care, trust me they care. At the end of the game last week there were some boys who were very upset. So we need to give everything.
“I still believe in this group, I still believe in our work and I believe in the club. So let’s be positive, put a smile on everyone’s faces and march forward.”
Focus on Folkestone
The Rooks travel to the BuildKent Stadium on Saturday to greet a side that is also seeking to regain form. Folkestone lost 4-0 to Cheshunt last weekend and battled out a 2-2 draw at Brightlingsea the previous midweek.
And manager Cugley has had his say on the upcoming clash.
“(Lewes) are a good side and if we had a complete squad this would have been a difficult game, although I thought we were unlucky to lose 3-0 in the game at their place, as during the second half we changed formation to chase the game, but they caught us out twice in injury time,” Cugley told Folkestone’s official website.
“As expected, they are challenging for a playoff place, and once again it shows how strong this division is, as despite the squad they’ve got they aren’t automatically in the playoff places and Worthing deserve a lot of credit for being top of the table with a ten-point lead.
“It should be a good game and I can assure our supporters that we will be working hard to get the three points on Saturday, so please come along and give us your support that has been so good this season.”
Folkestone vs Lewes kicks off at 3pm on Saturday at the BuildKent Stadium. Gates open at 1:30pm with ticket prices starting at £11 for adults, £8 for concessions and £3 for U18s.