Cray Wanderers proud 2020 unbeaten record came to an end on Tuesday night at Potters Bar Town after 17 games but despite the disappointment there was much to commend the performance. Here Tony Russell looks back at the game, his thoughts on the FA Cup draw and a new opponent for the Wands and a look ahead to the challenge of Bishop’s Stortford on Sunday

Thank you Tony to you and the team for the great run the team has been on since New Year’s Day. We’ve seen some fabulous football over 17 games and 15 unbeaten in the league was an Isthmian Premier record for the club. Let’s focus on Tuesday night and the defeat to Potters Bar. What were your thoughts on the game?

It’s a hard one really, I don’t want to take anything away from Potters Bar Town because they won the game, good luck to them, congratulations but I think it is easy sometimes to look at a result and then presume a team has played well. I watched the game last night and Wednesday morning watched the game back so I can get a second view on it. It is an interesting watch. First of all I have to take some of the blame for that as I got my team selection for the game wrong.  I knew they were going to play 3-6-1 formation and we’ve got the personnel within the squad to deal with that. Last year we decided to pick the starting XI on who we were playing against and one that we felt could beat that team regardless of the formation or shape they would play.  This year for some reason I didn’t do it and had in my head the team I thought could win the game but I chose to stay with those players that had done well in previous games.  Which goes against a little of what I do and I knew twenty minutes into the game I thought I’ve made a bit of a boo-boo here.

If you look at the facts of the game, I would say if I was a betting man we had 70% of the ball. Considering we had 75% against East Thurrock and Potters Bar set up the same way, ten men behind the ball, sat in and hope we make a mistake and counter attack us. They’ve had five shots in total in the whole game, three shots on goal and two which went wide or over the bar. One of the goals has come from the ref giving a corner when the ball was fired over without touching anyone. So when you look at that the first time they’ve got anywhere near our penalty area was in the 8th minute when they scored. From our perspective it is a real poor goal to concede. Jay Leader is having a conversation with Carlsey about standing in front of the centre-forward whilst he throws the ball and he reacts really late it spins off their guy’s chest and Jay’s running forward as he’s not tight enough. Then Mitchell Nelson is squared up, the shot is close to Lewis who gets two hands on it but can’t keep it out of the net.  So between the three of them for their standards is poor.  For the second goal they have punted the ball forward Jay has brought the ball forward and did a blind pass which went straight to their no 8 who finished in the corner. So the first two times they got anywhere near the penalty area and had a shot they score both times. Now we’ve got an uphill struggle against a team putting ten men behind the ball and the pitch is tight. It ended with us having all the ball, and being a bit wasteful in the final third.   

For the third goal the ball has been throw in to Freddie Parker who with no-one around him lets the ball go under his foot to the Potters Bar player who broke and took a shot with his left foot which ballooned over the bar but the ref gives a corner when it goes nowhere near a player. From the corner we’ve headed it out and the no 9 has stuck one in the top corner for their third goal so credit to him for his finishing.

In the second half the only time they looked like scoring was a cross on the right hand side which he messed up and came back off the top of the crossbar apart from that it was just us having the ball. Ben came on which possibly would have been the best option to start him he’s starting to break lines and gone into Freddie’s feet who has rolled the centre half, they’ve got one in the box we have three, he’s pulled it back to JT, the pass is a little behind him so can’t side foot it in so lays it off to Rhys Murrell-Williamson, six yards out, middle of the goal and he treads on the ball. Then the keeper made two good saves one from Jason Banton at the near post and one from Barney when he pushed the ball out. Jason three times from 20 yards has fired over the top when normally he curls them into the top corner.  So we’ve had 14 shots, 9 on target and 70% of the ball. They’ve had 30% of the ball, three shots and scored three goals. It’s easy to sit here and go Cray haven’t played well, Potters Bar must have played well where the facts of the matter are you have a front four that have banged in goals for fun, 20 at the start of the season and just had an off day. We didn’t go there last season and have that much possession of the ball or create that amount of chances.

To be fair to Jay he’s shown good character and could have been easy to go missing but was excellent in the second half and so was Mitch and Ben Mundele who when he came on looked like the Ben we know and now ready to be selected from the start fitness wise and Bradley Pritchard did very well second half and there were positives to take from the game.

With the greatest respect to Potters Bar I’d seen them a couple of times this season and then they never finish 100% of their chances. If they did that they’d be in a higher division. They have had a night where everything they have hit has gone in and we had a night where we were a little bit off it. However it is hard for me to be too angry because they have gone away from home, had 70% of the ball and had 14 goal attempts. The goals were poor on our part although not ripped apart and we’ve bossed the game but we possibly could have still be out there now and not scored so had one of those nights.  A flip example was the game with Kingstonian where we had 50% possession to their 50%. So it was an even game in terms of having the ball and they have had five shots on target, we’ve had seven and each side had fourteen in total. We won 5-1 and everyone thought we played brilliant because of the score line. I said at the time, I didn’t think we played that well so I don’t get carried away with the result or the euphoria that goes with it, I look at the performance and the performance at Potters Bar wasn’t that bad. I’ll be happy if we go to every away game and have that much of the ball and chances because I know our front players on any other night win that game for us.

It shows how far we have come as a football club if you see the reaction to them beating us on their social media.  We are a team that got promoted not that long ago and it shows how far we’ve come when teams put ten men behind the ball.  I’m not going to be hard and say it was a poor performance as it wasn’t and I said I was proud of them and were still going at in the 93rd minute still trying to score and didn’t give up and going forward.  There are ways to lose a football match and if you’re going to lose do it giving everything you’ve got and we done that. Sometimes you can look at it as the football gods weren’t smiling on us that night but if we continue to do the right things and play well like that we will win a lot of games. Sometimes it can be easy to look at a football game and result and assume if you lost that you must have played badly or the other team very well. Personally, I thought Potters Bar didn’t play well but they were clinical and if we did like we did at East Thurrock where they had played a similar way but missed a good chance to score then we go up the other end and score and they had to change their game plan. If we had scored the first goal at Potters Bar I’m certain we would have won the game comfortably.  Our whole philosophy is we control games of football, we wear you down and we beat you. We did the first bit, we controlled the game of football but couldn’t on this occasion do the rest.

Let’s look ahead to Sunday and our first home game for a while against Bishop’s Stortford. They seem to have had a recruitment drive in the summer, look solid and will be a tough game for us won’t it.

It will be a very good game. We’ve had a report on them, they’ve recruited very well and got some East Thurrock players from last season including, goalkeeper Ed Giddens and forward Frankie Merrifield who is a real handful. They’ve a good midfield, high energy, experience at the back. A very solid team and they will be good this year.  A good test for us and nice to play at home again as the last four have been away so have been doing a lot of travelling. I think you can see this with some of the recent results and there were some freakish results around the Isthmian Leagues and teams are playing so many games and the travelling is taking it out of everyone.  As the season goes on I expect Bishop’s Stortford to do well and I think it will be a very good match, on a Sunday, big crowd in and I’m really looking forward to it.

I agree the away schedule although enjoyable was a bit hectic but looking ahead to the next round of the FA Cup and a first ever trip to Bristol Manor Farm. Do you know much about them already?

We will watch them Saturday, so I’ll get a report on the Sunday so I don’t know what the ground is like, the pitch or what they are like as a team. We will be doing a lot of travelling, on a clear run it will take three hours and I said to the players at Potters Bar it is all about commitment, if we want to do anything this year we have got to be committed to it with not a lot of time between games and the FA are asking a lot of players at this part of the season. We’ve a number of midweek games coming up and it’s taking a toll on all of us at the moment with the travelling. For Potters Bar, two hours travelling to the game, two hours to get home, and the next day go into training, then play Sunday, a 500 mile round trip on Tuesday, come back and play Haringey on Saturday, then a midweek game, then Saturday then a midweek, then a Saturday. We’re asking the players to do that at the highest level to the best they can. It hinders us as normally we don’t play so many midweek games so we train and then we prep. The last time I saw the players was Saturday and we knew the way Potters Bar would play. Normally we would do a session on that and what to do with or without the ball but at the moment we are doing it on a board.  We are a team that does a lot of coaching and preparation so it is hard and gruelling for the next four weeks with three games a week. We need to get through it and there will be games where we can’t give everything we got.  Eventually things will calm down but the more successful we are the more games we are going to play and if we trust in each other and play well and best foot forward we will be all right. I never get to high if we win and never get too low if we lose. If you read all the reports I’ve never waxed lyrical if we’ve won and always said we are not at 100% and still work to do and conversely now we have lost I’m not going to sit there and say we played badly and was in many ways one of our better performances and kept going and if we keep doing that to the end we will be fine.