Tony Russell says the 3-2 win over Folkestone on Tuesday was deserved reward for the volunteers who helped clear the Dripping Pan pitch of water – and he is gunning for three more points against Cray Wanderers this weekend.
The Rooks beat Folkestone with all five goals coming in the first half. And as conditions worsened the longer into the game, Lewes successfully shut up shop.
And the boss says the game couldn’t have happened without the community that works behind the scenes.
“It was a mad first half on Tuesday, and the second half was horrible,” says Russell. “The second half was probably the worst I’ve ever sat through, it was filthy.
“And for the second midweek game running we’ve had to deal with really tough conditions. I’d like to thank our fans for braving it out there, and also thank you to the volunteers at the club because I didn’t think the game would be on.
“When I got down there it was bucketing it down, even with 20 minutes before kick off. Looking at the pitch there were puddles. But the volunteers went out there with their forks and brooms, and put in a heroic effort to drain the pitch in time.
“The pitch was really on the edge though, and the wind was dreadful. Combined, those conditions made for a horrible game of football, but we battled through it. At one point, for our second goal, you see the ball get caught on the wet turf as Razz tries to dribble. That’s how close we were to having it called off.”
The win means Lewes now head into Saturday’s clash with Cray Wanderers seeking to go eight unbeaten and potentially go as high as seventh in the Isthmian Premier League.
It will be the team’s seventh game in the last 21 days as the fixtures stack up before Christmas. And Russell reckons the players are developing well now they’re in the swing of things.
‘Carnage’ on Tuesday
“The game was carnage in the first half,” says Russell. “Joe Taylor’s first goal was a great finish and it was thanks to Tyrique Hyde’s run that he had the space to shoot.
“Hydey runs across JT and it takes the midfielder and defender with him, opening up the goal for Joe to shoot. Looking back at games like the loss at Horsham, those shots were getting blocked by the defence. We’ve spoken about our movement and players sacrificing themselves to give teammates space to shoot, and it worked well there.
“These are the little details that we’re improving on every week. Each game that the new lads get accustomed to how we play, the better we are at doing these things and creating opportunities for each other.
“Everything we do is assessed, and we spoke after Saturday’s game about how our plans are beginning to work. For example, we’ve had an issue of our wide men not being there to finish off moves created by the guy on the other side. But with our second goal on Tuesday Razz did the work getting into the box and played it across to Rhys (Murrell-Williamson) who was there to finish.
“I feel as a group of players that we’re definitely growing. On Saturday there were things we needed to address, we spoke about it on Monday, and on Tuesday is came off. We’re developing, there’s a progression here.
“It’s important we continue to progress because there are very few teams in this league that have the ability to consistently get better. We’ve got so much scope for growth – forward-thinking coaching, a group of players who want to improve, a great pitch and supportive fans. Now adding in new players we’re only going to get better.”
One might have expected more goals to come in the second half on Tuesday after five in the first, but Russell is delighted with how his players controlled the game and effectively shut it down when the weather turned worse.
“The second half was tough. We had to stay tight, compact and keep the ball in close areas at the back,” adds Russell. “It wasn’t pretty but with the conditions we managed to game really well.
“They (Folkestone) were so obsessed with trying to get the ball off us they were breaking out of their positions, which actually helped us because they split up.
“So as much as it looked dangerous, I told the boys it was important to keep our heads down, retain the ball and keep calm. Folkestone were diluting themselves spreading out, and we could grind out the half with the ball, rather than fighting without it.
“I appreciate it stunk the place out a little but those three points are huge. There are certain teams we need to do that against and Folkestone are definitely one of them.
“The boys were smart in a ‘continental’ way. While the first half was swashbuckling Lewes, the second really wasn’t. But that shows the players get the fine arts, and are developing their winning momentum.
“We needed the fans too. They’re knowledgable and I think understood that we had to grind it out in the second half. That’s what happens in these conditions sadly.
“It was a really unusual game as we’re always keen to be on the front foot, but with the weather and pitch like it was, I’m just happy to get the win and make it seven unbeaten.”
Focus on Cray
Saturday sees Lewes welcome Cray Wanderers to the Dripping Pan, one of Russell’s former sides. Cray currently sit eighth in the Isthmian Premier League and are unbeaten in five games.
Lewes beat Cray 2-0 at home back in January and Russell says he’s not interested in sentiment when coming up against his former club.
“It’s weird but I don’t really hold the sentiment in these types of games. I managed Cray for six years, enjoyed my time there and was successful,” says Russell.
“I look back at my time fondly but personally I don’t go into the game with any extra incentive. I want to win and that’s that.
“Cray are a good team and have a very good manager. They’ve been smart with signing some good players and are having a very strong season, and are doing well against the ‘bigger’ sides.
“They’re a big team that’s hard to beat and well-organised, so we’re going to have to be at our best again to win on Saturday.
“But the team we’re playing doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s about us and the boys are in great form, and are ready to crack on.
“There are a couple of things we need to look at from a selection point of view, but it was good to have Marcel back. Lew got a stud on his elbow on Tuesday but that should be fine. We’ve got some bumps and bruises but that’s going to happen when you’re playing Tuesday-Saturday every week, and we just have to move forward.”
Lewes FC vs Cray Wanderers tickets
The match on Saturday 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