New Lewes signing Tom Phipp provides the team greater flexibility to shut down opposition game plans and take control of matches, says boss Tony Russell.
Phipp started in the 3-1 win over Bowers & Pitsea last weekend and lasted an hour on his debut before being replaced.
The win – earned through goals from Joe Taylor, Bradley Pritchard and Taylor Maloney – pushed the Rooks up to sixth in the Isthmian League table, heading into Saturday’s Sussex Senior Cup showdown at Worthing.
And Russell is delighted to have a new face immediately impress in his side, even if Phipp may miss this weekend’s encounter with injury.
“I was pleased with the Bowers & Pitsea performance – it’s one that you need if you’re going to mount a challenge to get promoted,” says Russell.
“Playing a long ball is an art form if you do it right and some teams in this league are very good at it. They’ve got players who are so hard to handle and there’s midfielders who come onto the second ball – and we’ve been really struggling with that. That cost us in the early part of the season because we couldn’t get to grips with it.
“Bringing in Will Salmon has helped but on Saturday you saw what Tom Phipp can bring. Lewis Manor, their centre-forward, is arguably one of the best in the league at what he does. He’s 6ft 3in, a good size and a very good player. And they get the ball into him and he causes problems.
“The fact they’re taking him off after 70 minutes having not affected the game is testament not only to the centre-half but also the work we’re doing, and what we worked on in the week.
“Phipp was outstanding and what he allows us to do now is go and win games on different terrains against different sides – and we couldn’t do that at the start of the season.
“He will negate a lot of teams now, and allow us to go to games and stop what the other teams are doing. You could see that on Saturday in that the moment we stopped what they wanted to do, we took everything we wanted. I felt we controlled the game bar the last five minutes.”
Saturday’s trip to Worthing is the Rooks’ last game before Christmas. The two sides shared nine goals in a league thriller back in October, which Worthing won 5-4.
And Russell reckons this encounter may prove just as enthralling.
“I’m really looking forward to this. Unfortunately I missed the first league game there because I had Covid,” says the boss.
“I’ve seen the game back and obviously from my perspective tactically it was a nightmare. But for the neutral it looked an unbelievable game of football.
“Knowing their manager Adam (Hinshelwood) and myself there’s not going to be much different here. We’re both going to have a go and have a Ding-Dong, so we’ll make changes.
“It’s an opportunity for the boys in the squad to put their hands up. We won’t be any weaker but it’s an opportunity for the boys to push for a starting place.”
Focus on Worthing
Isthmian League leaders Worthing lost 4-2 to Margate on Tuesday night to end a three-game unbeaten run this winter.
“We have to show – again – that we can put results like this behind us quickly,” says Worthing boss Hinshelwood.
“We’ve shown before that we can do that. We are always willing to try to improve.”
Striker Ollie Pearce netted twice when Lewes headed to Worthing back in October, and already has 20 goals for the campaign.
And he may well be the man to watch as Russell sets out his gameplan.
“Ollie’s goal tally is unbelievable,” adds Hinshelwood. “He’s showing a great level of maturity.
“There’s more to his game than his goals. He’s leading the line.”
Lewes beat Littlehampton in the second round of the Sussex Senior Cup – and a win here would see Russell’s men progress to the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s hosts have also confirmed there will be a Worthing Food Foundation food collection at the game to help families in the local community that are struggling over the Christmas period.
Away fans wishing to attend the game should check Worthing’s website for more ticket details.