Lewes manager Tony Russell is expecting a crunch game on Saturday when his Rooks side rock up at Haringey Borough looking to get back to winning ways.
The team have lost just one of their last four games but three of those outings have been draws, and last weekend they recovered from a two-goal deficit to earn a point against Bowers & Pitsea.
Saturday’s 3pm kick off sees Lewes come up against the team sat one place higher in the league – and a win could push the Rooks up to as high as ninth.
And Russell reckons both sides will go for the three points.
“It’s going to be a really hard game. Haringey are one of the form sides in our league and I watched them at Hornchurch – one of the hardest places to go in the league – and they should have won but drew 3-3,” says Russell.
“They beat Folkestone at home 3-0, beat Bognor away on Saturday, and have had some very good results.
“Their front four has pace and power. It’s going to be tricky but we’ve trained for it and set the game plan.
“We’ve found a way to beat them, but if we defend the way we’ve been defending then we’ll get ironed out. So we’ll need to be at it on Saturday, because Haringey are a dangerous side.
“We understand that this is a big one – because we play expansive football we need to be brave but also careful. It’s a little bit like Russian roulette on Saturday – be brave but also understand the threat that they carry. It should be a great game.”
Reflecting on Bowers & Pitsea
The games are still coming thick and fast for Lewes but this midweek was a welcome break for the team after regular Saturday-Tuesday fixtures.
Now having had a few more days to recover from Bowers & Pitsea, Russell has been able to reflect on a tough couple of weeks.
“Coming into the week off the back of the Potters Bar game, I thought it would go one of two ways: either we’d be flat as a pancake or we’d come out all guns blazing,” he says.
“And I thought we started the game alright. We knew what they were going to do, which was primarily put 11 men behind the ball, stink it out. But we also knew the one thing we can never do is give away a cheap goal – and that’s what we did.
“It was the worst thing we could do because it gave them something to hold onto from early on. It was all us for the first 10 minutes but then one free-kick later, after a quick turnover and Jack fouls the guy, they pump it forwards and it’s really disappointing from our perspective. Forty seconds from the ref blowing his whistle to them taking the free kick and we still weren’t set up. They won the first, second and third ball, and it’s poor from us.
“We’ve had an inquest into it, watched the video back as a group and identified what went wrong, because it’s a very similar goal to one we conceded against Brightlingsea.
“After that it was the same pattern for ages, us trying to probe. But then they scored a second and to be fair to them it was a great goal. Credit where credit’s due, the cross in was excellent and the header was really good. Full credit to the goalscorer but from our perspective we look at comparisons to the other goals, such as Potters Bar’s fourth, where a midfielder has just walked straight into our box and not been picked up by anyone. We had an inquest into that as well.
“We can’t keep dangling these carrots for opposition teams like this. It just makes the job harder for ourselves, and gives them something to hold on to. That was frustrating and then given what happened in the week, and the fact they were always going to put 11 men behind the ball, it gave them more incentive to do that. The task became really, really hard.”
Lewes came back in the second half through Ayo Olukoga and Jamie Mascoll. And Russell says the instruction was not to panic despite being two down.
“It was hard because you have to contain your frustration [at half time],” says the boss.
“I was really angry and part of me wanted to have a go at them, scream and shout. But that’s not how we do things. With what happened in the week, morale was already low, so the message was just keep it simple and believe in ourselves as a team.
“We brought Mascoll on to give us more balance on the left, and spoke about ball speed because we needed to move it quicker against 11 men behind the ball. We made a few changes, moving Champs and Alfie around, and it worked really well.
“Jack and Razz also swapped around to switch it out when they were shuffling around as a block. We were trying little things to get the game going again, and we knew the next goal at 2-0 down was important.
“We got it and then it was game on. We didn’t dwell on the goals we conceded but looked forward. Ayo scored a really good goal and that changed the momentum, and gave us more belief. We hit the post, the goalkeeper stopped Razz with a good save, but we got that equaliser at the end.”
Russell gathered the team on a Zoom session in the week to digest the result and performance, and look towards the coming weekend.
“They had two shots on goal and scored two. That’s just the way it’s going at the moment and we have to take our medicine,” he says. “It was another game where we dominated the ball, with over 75% possession.
“And before the game I wouldn’t have taken a draw if you’d offered it me, but in the 96th minute I would have! You have to take your medicine, take the positives from it and move on.
“We had a big session about the game on Monday and there was a lot to talk through. I said to the players we can’t keep doing this, and if it happens again then we may have to go down the route of shuffling things around a bit.
“As harsh as that sounds there’s only so much we can put up with. When we’re defending the way we are, and when you look at the sheer number of goals we’re conceding, it’s not to our standard. I know the lads are good enough but we can only talk for so long.”
Praise for Ayo
Russell also reserved praise for Olukoga, who got Lewes back into the game against Bowers & Pitsea and provided the energy to keep the team going.
“Ayo’s a brilliant person to have around,” says Russell. “He’s very positive and is always smiling, and that rubs off on the team. He’s a lovely guy and I’m delighted he got his goal on Saturday.
“Ayo’s one who has huge enthusiasm, huge energy and desire. He’s quick and alert – sort of like a Kante in the middle. Lately we felt he needed to improve his speed of passing and decision making, and we do a lot of work on that. He’s definitely coming on and doing really well, and I’m delighted for him because he’s a great lad.”
Haringey Borough vs Lewes kicks off at 3pm on Saturday at Coles Park.