Cray Wanderers vs. Brightlingsea Regent – The Pre-Match thoughts of Tony Russell

Cray Wanderers kept up their push for promotion on Sunday with a 3-1 win against Merstham at Hayes Lane.  Here Tony Russell, the Isthmian Premier February Manager of the Month looks back at a win which keeps Cray 4th in the table and seven points off the top. Tony also comments on the challenge of Brightlingsea Regent on Saturday.



Let’s look back to Sunday and the win against Merstham.  The win puts Cray back up to 4th and now seven points off the leaders so slowly cutting the lead. Also for the first time this season there is a seven point buffer to 6th placed Horsham. So all in all a good weekend for us!

Yes, it was a weird game and sometimes the Sunday matches are like that and a different more subdued atmosphere.  We had just come off of a real tough run of fixtures over 6/7/ games against teams in and around us and the intensity that goes with that.  The big games and the team knowing they have to play at full pelt to get a result.  I felt Sunday we were a little bit flat, we were ok but the intensity in those games aren’t quite the same with the greatest respect to Merstham, they are near the bottom of the table for a reason as they have lost a lot of games.  We got our three goals in the first half without being brilliant and then at half time we tried to fire them up as we wanted to push to try and get the goal difference up as there are a few teams bunching up and it is going to be tight.  We just never really got going after the break, we were pretty on the eye but never really penetrated which we were a little bit disappointed with.

It was funny as Merstham got a goal right at the end and we were in the huddle and you would have thought we had lost the game 4-0, their heads were down and really angry.  I said to them I was disappointed and it was a missed opportunity to open up and express ourselves and get some more goals. However, it is also a point where you reflect and see how far we have come even this year, we are standing in this huddle disappointed to win a game in the Isthmian Premier 3-1 and get three points. That’s how far we’ve come and make sure you enjoy this, it is a hard league and you have to be grateful when the wins come along. We had done more than enough to win the game, could we have played better? Yes but we didn’t get any injuries, Tom Phipp and Jay Leader came through the match and got minutes under their belt.  So there were plenty of positives but I just had to remind them, we won the game and it is all good at the moment.

Saying that, first half I don’t think Merstham would have complained if they had gone in 0-6 down because as well as the three goals, Charlie Allen has hit the bar, Rhys was twice denied by the keeper, another possible penalty shout and Tom Carlse shot just wide.

What I thought we did really well first half is the stuff we worked on in the week in the lead up to the game, we executed in the areas we wanted to attack them.  Before the game we had a Sponsors lunch and I went up and had a few words before the match to the sponsors. I spoke about the tactical stuff and what we planned to do and said they were going to play 3-5-2 and how we were going to break them down and obviously we did that in the areas that we spoke about. The players are a great group and they will trust me and Vinesy to the letter. They executed what we wanted to do and it went 3-0.  I’m delighted any time we go into a game and get three points at the business end of the season. It was a potential banana skin, we blew them away first half and it might seem like nick-picking but it was a chance to really put our foot down in the second and rack up some goals but never looked like doing it. Credit to Merstham, they kept on going and got a goal at the end which the boys weren’t happy about and were all questioning each other in the huddle which is a good thing, that is the mentality of the squad, they are hungry for the three points.  I told them let’s go back a couple of months, at Christmas we were two points behind Hornchurch who had three games in hand, we were twelve points behind Worthing, ten behind Folkestone, Horsham were in front of us by 10 points on the same amount of games so we’ve come a long way in a short space of time so be grateful for what we’ve got.  Let’s use this as fuel to drive us on, go back to training next week and iron it out.

You mentioned we got through the game without injuries so that was a plus for Tom Phipp to play 80+ minutes and Jay Leader played a full game.  I thought Tom Carlse had a terrific game particularly in the first half.

First half I though Tom Phipp was absolute class and what he did was unbelievable and with what we worked on there’s a reason why we went with Ben Mundele and Tom Carlse in the full back areas.  We thought that was the area where we could attack and I thought Carlsey had a great game too and his best for a long time and was good to see.

Joe Taylor took his goal tally to the season to 31 with a brace and he was a real handful to the Merstham defence wasn’t he.

Yes, he is another player when you are doing well in non-league football they talk about money and we must have loads of money to have him.  You have to realise we lost Shaggy, his back went and JT was warming the bench at Margate and we got him in. I remember watching him at Ramsgate and flagged him up then, he is now going on to be one of the best strikers in this league. He’s done remarkably well but what I would say about him is what people are not going to see, it’s not just his goals he gives us, he occupies the centre-half, he presses from the front and he is a fantastic player and a great person too. When we first sat down with him we weren’t in a position to offer him mega money but what I did promise him was you will enjoy your football because of the way we do things.  Me and Vinesy we don’t scream and shout at people, slag you off and any problems we might have we sort it out on the training pitch. I think we can improve you and bring you on to be an even better player than you are.  He believes in that and I honestly think the JT that turned up with us and the JT now is a lot different, his mindset, the way he plays and he’s taken his game to the next level.

Let’s bring things forward to Saturday and the visit of Brightlingsea Regent who we’ve never beaten at Hayes Lane. Will we have to show the same sort of professional mindset against them despite their lowly league position as we did against Merstham?

You never know in football, just when you think you’ve cracked it, it will come back and bite you.  It is the way it is.  All we can do is give Brightlingsea the utmost respect that we give everyone else, prep work has already begun, the session at Wednesday’s training will be all around Brightlingsea and we are thinking of no-one else right now. We’ve got to execute our plans and with a little bit of luck we will win the game as you need to have a bit of luck.  I’ve been in football long enough to know that I’ve been in games where we’ve had about lots of shots on target and the other team has one and go on and win 1-0 so that could happen.  What we’ve got to do is put our best foot forward, me, Vinesey and Nathan have got to do the best we can do to prepare the players, get team selection right and just win the game, it’s as simple as that.

Congratulations Tony on winning the Manager of the Month for February. A well deserved accolade not only for the recent run but also for your hard work all season.   I saw a tweet you sent earlier where you mentioned the hard work of Joe Vines and Nathan White too and they are a big part of the club and what we do aren’t they.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really go big on individual awards, not even at the end of the season where you give an award for one player, goalscorer etc. We as a group buy into that we are very much a team. We don’t go out there and put the ball in the net, clear the ball off the line and make through balls. I don’t do that, the players do. I don’t do everything here, Nathan puts on good sessions at training before I come in for patterns of play. Ally is a tremendous asset to us, we’ve had a torrid season for injuries and she’s just patched people up and got them back onto the pitch. Vinesy works with the back four relentlessly he does all the setplays and goes out there and delivers the results.  I’m just a small cog in a big wheel and this isn’t me just sound-byting, I’ve not won this Manager of the Month, WE have won the Manager of the Month. I wanted to put something out for those two as they make football fun for me because me, Vinesy and Nathan talk and work and go out and watch games and think about the team. We all do it as a group, they will be out watching a game, I will too. We will be coming out with tactical stuff for Wednesday and when we are on a run and we are winning and we score they are the two people I go too and Grant Hall in a hug and we have a laugh and a joke. It’s no good experiencing things if you haven’t got good people around you. That’s what I mean by they make my job a lot easier because they are good at what they do and make it fun.  We enjoy ourselves and the three of us have become close as friends. We were very fortunate last year to win the league which was brilliant and especially the game against Ashford when Carlesy scored and when those moments happen that is what you remember when you are grey and old.  Whether we win or lose, there have been times after a game when you get down but those two always are positive.

Also Grant Hall works with Lewis Carey, David Coyne with the camera and filming and so many people who do things for the club. I do get a little bit embarrassed when I win awards like that and get uncomfortable so that it is why I’m so keen to throw other people’s name in and say well done.

If you speak to Joe or Nathan or the players we say, we score goals, that’s the motto in the changing room. So if someone is in a better opportunity to score, square it so they can score. It is not about you.  Someone once told me, Individuals will win you games, teams will win you titles. We very much build for that, it goes against our grain when they say, Tony Russell, Manager of the Year or Manager of the Month, I have to say to them we have to accept it but if I had my way I would have everyone’s name on the trophy.