Lewes manager Tony Russell sees Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Sheppey as an opportunity to give minutes to a number of players coming back from injury – but is not taking the Rooks’ opponents lightly.
Lewes travel to Holm Park on Saturday seeking to progress into the second qualifying round against a Sheppey side sitting 17th in the Isthmian South East table.
Russell saw his men battle out draws against Corinthian-Casuals and Hastings over the bank holiday weekend.
And he is hoping the break from Isthmian Premier League action will give his returning players the minutes they need.
‘A chance to be braver’
“This gives us an opportunity to be a little bit braver in our team selection,” says Russell.
“We’ve got the likes of Bradley Pritchard, Joe Taylor and Tom Phipp coming back from injury. So it gives us a chance to be braver and put them in.
“They can get some really good minutes and while I’m desperate to win the game our main priority is to win the league.
“If I’m going to take a slight risk it’ll be in the FA Cup, rather than the league. As confident as I am in my own ability, I don’t think we’ll be winning the FA Cup any time soon.
“So we’ll attack the ones that are realistic to our success and we feel that’s in the league. But it’s still a great opportunity to try things out, give players coming back from injury the minutes they need, and keep spirits high.”
Focus on Sheppey
Sheppey have already come through two preliminary rounds to reach this stage of the FA Cup and beat Welling United 2-0 two seasons ago.
And while Russell admits he is more preoccupied with the league this season, he isn’t taking Saturday’s game for granted.
“Sheppey are a very good side. They got promoted last season and I know Ernie Batten really well. He’s been building there and is very well supported,” says Russell.
“They can financially compete with most teams in our league. We went in for a player this summer and they were involved as well, and we couldn’t get anywhere near what they ended up paying.
“They’ve got some great players. Some ex-pros and a manager who plays as well. They’ve got boys from Step 3, so they’re no mugs and a good side at home.
“Two years ago they overturned Welling at home, so it is a genuine banana skin that we need to be wary of.
“But we’re in good form. Although we’ve drawn one too many games we are unbeaten. And barring the Hastings game we’ve controlled and dominated every game up to that point this season.
“We’re in good form, the training sessions have been great. The attitude and application has been really good. It reminds me of the level we got to at my previous club, when you’ve been there long enough that everything is settled and you can start doing the good work.”
Reflecting on bank holiday draws
As assistant manager Joe Vines said after the goalless draw with Hastings on Monday, shifting focus to the FA Cup gives a slight reprieve to the league campaign following five quick games in succession.
And Russell says he and the staff have taken the positives from the draws with Corinthian-Casuals and Hastings.
“The positives from Saturday were that we went to Corinthian-Casuals, who are a well-established club, and we dominated from minute one,” says Russell.
“We hit the woodwork three times, missed lots of opportunities and the only negative was we probably should have scored five or six.
“And then on Monday… well for the players to play two games in three days, it was physically very demanding. From a planning perspective we had no training session before it. We’d worked on patterns of play and our shape in the week, but before Hastings we didn’t have time to do that.
“Going into Monday we’d done a bit on the board beforehand, but it’s not as ideal as walking through formations and set-ups on the training group. Hastings played a bit of an odd formation and I thought tactically we were a bit all over the place. We struggled to get to the areas we wanted to attack on, and without the ball the communication wasn’t quite there.
“Hastings had the better of the first half – all credit to Hastings, they played really well and but for our last-minute defending it would have been more difficult.
“At half time we got the magnets back out. The easiest thing to do was to have matched them up tactically but that would have meant bringing on Joe Taylor at the break. He’s only just come back from injury, has been out for six or seven weeks and played 45 minutes of pre-season. So I gave the boys 10 more minutes into the second half before bringing him on.
“We matched up Hastings to make it easier for everyone and from that point we gained an element of control. We began dictating the pace. However we never really opened them up or looked like we would win. Ultimately we didn’t deserve to win either.”
Sheppey vs Lewes
The match kicks off at The Total Power Stadium at 3pm on Saturday 3 September.
Fans can travel via train to Queenborough station on the Sheerness to Sittingbourne line, or exit the M2 at Junction 5 (Sheerness, Maidstone) and up the A249.
Adult ticket prices start from £10, with seniors at £5. Kids aged 7-15 can gain entry for £2 if accompanied by an adult.