Lewes manager Tony Russell has issued a rallying cry to Rooks fans and his own players ahead of Saturday’s clash with Bowers & Pitsea, with a mission statement to trigger a new unbeaten streak.
The Rooks saw an eight-game undefeated run come to an end on Tuesday when they were downed 4-3 at Potters Bar, having led 3-1 into the final 10 minutes.
Lewes now return to the Dripping Pan on Saturday for a clash with 19th-placed Bowers & Pitsea, managed by Russell’s former colleague James Collins.
And despite a string of injuries impacting the group, Russell is confident his lads can put on a show for the Rooks fans.
“We’re really feeling the amount of injuries we have right now. The numbers we’re carrying at the moment, I’ve never known it in all my time in football, we’ve just got to ride it out, keep believing in each other and draw on every bit of togetherness we’ve ever had,” says Russell.
“Because we need it – the players, the fans, the staff, the volunteers. We need unity because Saturday is going to be hard regardless of who we’re playing, considering how it went in the week.
“I expect the boys to knuckle down and come out fighting, and our fans will be there with us too.”
Reflecting on a tough week
The loss at Potters Bar came three days after the 2-2 FA Trophy draw with Bognor Regis Town, which the Rooks then lost on penalties. And Russell admits the recent results have not reflected the strong performances his players have delivered.
“I thought Bognor was a good spectacle and a great atmosphere at the Pan,” says Russell.
“Both teams were really going at each other and we came out of the blocks and scored two early goals. They scored somewhat against the run of play but we came straight back. On 45 minutes JT had a point-blank shot saved, their keeper made an unbelievable save. If that had gone in out would have been game over.
“In the second half we weren’t brave enough on the ball, which brought them into the game. It was a bit of a “you attack, we attack” match, but within that I don’t think Bognor created a great deal. There were a few long-range efforts that Lewis had to deal with but generally it was OK.
“They got a penalty that we believe was soft – I think you can see that on the video – but then we reacted to that. Razz had a one-v-one that the keeper saved, Ayo had one off the back of a really good run and the keeper makes another excellent stop. We felt we did enough to win in 90 minutes but ultimately it went to penalties and it’s always a lottery. Their goalkeeper came out on top and we wish them all the best for the next round.
“To lose in the shoot-out is frustrating but we shouldn’t have got to that position. But the crowd were great that day and I hope we have the same spirit at the Dripping Pan this weekend too.
“And then against Potters Bar we dominated them for 85 minutes, probably more than anyone else this season. And then they go and score three goals.
“It’s just the way it’s going at the moment. We only had 12 fit outfield players – a few more after Saturday’s game were struggling. Jamie Mascoll was named on the bench but could never come on, Deshane Dalling didn’t even get to Potters Bar, he couldn’t come in.
“We had Mitch Nelson and our young keeper Roman Hall on the bench. Yet it was still all us from the start. Once we were 2-0 up it felt like we could get a lot more. Any neutral in the ground would have assumed we were the team top of the league, not 10th. It was quite a one-sided game.
“We went in at half time calm. We didn’t think they could bring anything else and we were in control. And that carried on in the second half.
“The word of the day was “calm” because they needed us to get panicky to turn the ball over. We came out and it was more of the same, breaking forward with ease and TQ got his goal for 3-1. Jack and Razz both went through, we were flying forward.
“And then? I noticed because we’ve got such low numbers that Jack and Ayo were struggling, having not really played 90 minutes in months. Both of them started to blow up and Potters Bar started to get some joy in going long and picking up the scraps in midfield. So we put Mitch in but that wasn’t enough. We stopped being calm and were hoofing the ball to no-one.
“Even at 3-2 after a deflected goal we were steady enough, despite Potters Bar being suddenly excited. It looked like we would ride it out but then we got into an argument with the linesman over a goal kick or a corner, and I turned and said to Vinsey “they’re going to score from this”. It was such a stupid decision. Of course the corner comes in, it’s headed out, and their guy smacks home a worldie. And then a minute later, while we’re still figuring ourselves out, they go forward again, get it in the box, and volley in the winner.”
Focus on Bowers
Tuesday’s result means Lewes’ streak comes to an end but the team is still just four points off the playoffs, with a game in hand over a number of teams.
And Russell expects Saturday’s encounter to play out differently to the team’s last two outings.
“I know their boss really well. We worked together when I just started out and he’s a smart, defensive manager,” sys Russell. “This will be a big test for us. Bowers & Pitsea will look to get bodies behind the ball, frustrate us and hit us on the counter.
“If you’re standing behind the goal you’re going to see a lot of the ball! I believe they’ll bank up with 10 men behind it. But we want to put a show on for our fans, so we’ll have to work hard here and play how I know we can.
“But it’s not really about Bowers & Pitsea. It’s about us and how we respond to Tuesday. We understand the fans’ frustrations at times, and we see it on social media and elsewhere. But unity makes us stronger and we need that support more than ever, because the boys feed off that encouragement.
“If you guys can be vocal and bring the noise to the Dripping Pan that I know you can, then we can get somewhere here. Even though we just had an eight-game unbeaten run, despite the injuries, we still need that boost. And with it we can put another unbeaten streak together and start looking up again. That starts on Saturday.”
Lewes FC vs Bowers and Pitsea tickets
The match on Saturday is at 3pm. You can buy Lewes FC tickets for the game online and skip the queue at the gate. Online ticket prices are as follows:
Adults – £12
Concessions – £8
Kids U16 – Free
Beach Huts – £110
Photo: James Boyes