CRAY WANDERERS – BOSTIK SOUTH-EAST CHAMPIONS 2018-19
The Thoughts of the Manager – Tony Russell
Saturday 13th April was a great day in the recent history of Cray Wanderers as promotion was achieved to the Bostik Premier with three games to spare and capped off a great year for the club on and off the field. Please see here the thoughts of Tony Russell on Saturday’s events and the exciting season as a whole.
Congratulations Tony to you, your coaching staff and players for winning the Bostik South-East title with three games to spare and on your 200th game in charge of the Wands. It was a tremendous day on Saturday and a hard game as Ashford were very worthy and strong opponents and certainly didn’t come for us to have a party. Easter Monday’s game with Sevenoaks Town should be a rarity this season and played in a relaxed and carnival atmosphere. What are your thoughts on the events of Saturday and the season as a whole?
Yeah what a day! Coming into the game we had real injury concerns with Denty, Jay Leader and Sean Roberts. It also looked for all the money that Saturday would come too soon for Bradley Pritchard to get over his Calf injury that has kept him out for the last two weeks, so it was a case coming into the game wondering who would be fit?
We trained on Wednesday and Denty was the only one who looked like he might have half a chance of playing! I was driving Jay Leader around on Thursday night to get him more treatment, just to give him more of a chance of making Saturday’s game. Friday night I took the Mrs and kids out to the cinema and half way into the film Prich mailed me to say he has gone for a run and his calf felt OK! I mailed Joe and asked what he thought. We were both concerned that if we put him in and it tore again – it would be season over. I spoke to Ally and we all agreed to get all the boys in early Saturday and give them fitness tests. One by one Ally came in saying “He seems fine and wants to play”. Sometimes you can’t hold people back and I could tell the boys wanted to get the job done that day so we let them run with it. It was a theme that would continue as the day went on! Normally, on a Wednesday, I know what team I’m going to play so we work on what we need to, but it was 1pm on a Saturday and I’m sitting with Joe in the stand talking about team selection – it’s not ideal but that’s the truth! So we agreed to play all the boys who were not 100% fit for two reasons.
1- We wanted to get as much experience on the pitch as we could, when you just need a win for the league it isn’t about who you are playing it’s more about who would deal with that situation the best. We didn’t do that very well vs Greenwich Boro so to have someone like Bradley Pritchard on the pitch, even if he was only at 70%, was so important for the team; and 2.- If you start them on the bench and bring one on and he breaks down you have wasted two subs! We had to switch it around and play Denty out wide, this was something we hadn’t worked on or done this season and for the first 20 mins – Wow! it looked like it! We were all over the place and very lucky to still be on level terms.
Talk about swings and roundabouts; last week Greenwich Boro got given a Pen that was never a pen! Well this week we got that back as Ashford should have been given a pen when Bluey fouled Jay May. Bluey then made a couple of smart saves to keep us level at 0-0. We then started to work it out and grew into the game a lot more. JT was in on goal and maybe should have done better but it was much more encouraging from us. We then got the first goal. Lovely sweeping move as Phipps switched it outside to Tom Carlse who played a one two with Archie then was brought down for a Pen. I saw Tom Phipp pick the ball up but Joe took it off him and tucked it away! Now we were playing well and the 2nd wasn’t too far behind. Again we worked the ball out wide to Tom Carlse but this time he was fouled outside the box. Denty put a lovely ball in and up popped Mitch to head us 2-0 up. Joe and I were chatting on the line and were all set to make a change tactically as we weren’t happy with the setup in midfield. As we were walking off, I was chatting to Tom Phipp about the problem I wasn’t happy with, he said they had been talking on the pitch and have sorted it so could we hold off. I am a big fan of players taking responsibility and we encourage players to manage games when you are out there, they are the ones in the battle so they need to give us feedback on what’s working and what’s not. I said I would leave it for 10mins and see how it pans out. At HT we spoke about how, for 90% of the season, we have bossed games but today wasn’t the case. We must make today be about finding a way and staying together, one of the big differences from last year is we have more leaders on the pitch so we can ride little storms out in games. I would normally talk tactics etc. but the bottom line was we were 45mins from winning a league so the message was clear, draw a line in the sand and say to Ashford “if you want to beat us then you will need to come through us!”. We have coached the life out of those boys, video sessions every week so they know what to, this was about seizing the moment. 2-0 up at home and 45 mins away from winning a league!
During the 2nd half we managed the game really well, we controlled it better and that was helped by them going down to ten men. They scored with ten mins to go to make it interesting. Dan Parish went to shoot and completely missed the ball and that left Mitch on the floor attempting to block the shot. The ball sat up nicely for him to score. Full credit to Ashford who never stopped coming at us and would have come away thinking that first 20 mins had cost them. We broke at the end and up popped Tom Carlse to get the 3rd goal and seal the win that won us the league. I was so happy for Tom as he was getting a bit of stick all game from the Ashford faithful so it was nice for him to let his feet do the talking. He won the Pen and free kick for the first two goals then scored the 3rd to top off a great performance and that tells you a lot about a player when he does that in the biggest game of the season. Normally I bang on about performance but it doesn’t matter, we were not very good on the day, I don’t know if it was nerves or team selection but who really cares? We are Champions and that’s all that matters.
Good luck to Tommy & all connected with Ashford for the play offs.
As for the whole season it has been smooth, if I am honest. Before Saturday we picked up two points in the last four games and still won it with three games to spare, so it gives you some indication of how dominant we have been this season. What a year it has been for the Club! A year that saw us get the green light on the new ground and then go on and win the league! It was great seeing everyone so happy at the end. Cray has had a hard time of it for a few years so to help turn it round and get them back challenging at the top has been brilliant. Joe and I are so proud to be the first management team to win a league for Cray at this level. It was special having Mr Vines next to me when it happened. I have had a tough year off the pitch, when my sister died in September my head was all over the place and he really stepped up, not only on the football front but also as a friend. I class him as one of my close mates so to have him next to me at the final whistle was brilliant – Me, him and Nath have formed a strong bond. It’s been great seeing the growth of Nathan as a coach. I first had in with me at VCD, year on year we have given him more responsibility & he response too it very well so really so I am looking forward to watching his continued growth. Along with Ally I am very lucky to have so many good people around me, seeing Ally jumping around on the pitch was great to see, she loves those boys and I spend most of my time getting players out of her room as she always has sweets in there. She works so hard so I can’t wait till we get in the new ground so she can have all the tools she needs to take herself to the next level in what she does.
I do have one sad bit of news, Nick Blue spoke to me a few weeks ago and said if we go up he doesn’t think he could commit to the next level. You can never say never in football but it’s looking like it could be his last home game for us. He has played for me at every club I have managed, so it’s like losing my right arm, not only are we made for each other in terms of how I want us to play and what he is good at, he is the nicest man you could ever want to meet. He is more than a player to me he is a friend to me and my family so I am gutted he is going. So let’s enjoy him for the last three games
I will be sitting down with Joe soon to start talking about next season. The harsh nature of football means we will have to let a few players go and bring new ones in. I don’t plan to bring loads in but we do have a list of targets as we want to keep on pushing. I am more than happy with the boys we have so it’s more topping up on with we already have.
I will be using the last three games to give everyone a chance to play, so expect some changes for the games coming up. However, I still expect us to win, the players will tell you I am not a good loser so there will be no letting up from me. It’s more of seeing some of the younger lads and boys who have been banging on my door for pitch mins. We have one more game this season at home and haven’t lost there yet, so it would be great to go the whole season unbeaten at home.
At the end of the season is always a turbulent time so you just never know for sure who will be here next season and who won’t!
On behalf of all the players and staff we all would like to say a big thank you for all your support this season, I hope you have enjoyed watching us!
Have a great Summer