The 2019-20 Isthmian Premier League season has arrived with Cray Wanderers proudly taking our place in the 22 team Division after finishing champions of the South-East Division. Here manager Tony Russell starting his fifth season in charge of the Wands looks back to Saturday’s hard earned point at Kingstonian and a look ahead to the first home game of the season against Folkestone Invicta and a first ever meeting with one of the great Kentish Football managers.
The Isthmian Premier season started on Saturday for Cray Wanderers with a hard earned and merited point from a goalless draw with Kingstonian with a very mature performance in at times difficult conditions. What were your thoughts on the game and outcome?
Kingstonian manager Hayden Bird was at Merstham last season and did a tremendous job finishing third in the league. They are a team that dominates the ball and the game with the ball. We identified that and did a lot of good work in the build up to the game on Monday and Wednesday on trying to stop that and to prevent them playing out from the back. We thought if we could do that it will stop their rhythm. I’ve watched the game back on our Hudl software and the clips at the end of the game shows you the stats and it showed we had 56% possession of the ball. That told me that everything we did during the week worked and that we nullified them. If anything they looked a lot more dangerous on the break. We were having a bit of the ball and they were hitting the no 9 (Theophanous) early and he was a handful but in terms of what we asked them to do in terms of the pressing we worked on the boys did brilliant. They are a good side who will cause a lot of teams’ problems but to go away from home with players out and with a young midfield I was delighted. I thought a draw was fair, they had 13 shots we had 11 so not a lot in it.
The only small negative was perhaps our decision making in the final third on the day which if we had been a bit more accurate could have led to a goal, but in the end if you looked at it, the last 20 minutes Kingstonian came on strong, Denty was struggling a bit with an injury but we had no other option as Charles Etumnu was on the bench but not feeling well so couldn’t bring him on and apart from that we had two wingers, my Assistant Manager and goalkeeping coach on the bench.
There were some good performances throughout the team but I thought in particular the three Toms, Carlse, Phipp and Murphy deserved special mention.
Carlsey just goes from strength to strength. When he first came in it can take a bit of time especially as a defender to get used to how we play and what we do. I think at first he was thinking about it a bit too much and now he knows it all he can just relax and looks like the player we identified when we were looking for a fullback.
I think Phippsy hates it a centre-half but he looks good there and will do a great job when Jay isn’t available. I thought Tom Murphy did ok and was unlucky not to score a couple of times but I just thought he and Andre Coker were just a little guilty once we worked the ball down the sides with their final ball and just needed a bit more quality but Andre had to show the ugly side of the game as their right back is a real problem for teams going forward and was one of the things that we worked on and he showed a lot discipline keeping him quiet.
I think special mention must go to the three boys in midfield. Freddie Parker a forward by trade but had to go into midfield, Lee Lewis only turned 17 in July and Karl Dent who played holding midfield. Against the likes of Kenny Beaney and Tom Kavanagh both excellent experienced players I thought it was an even contest in there and we gave as good as we got those three boys and don’t remember Beaney doing too much in the game and he is a terrific player. We asked Lee to do a job and he was so disciplined. Whatever you ask of him he always takes it on board and will carry out exactly what you want him to carry out. The job was to nullify them and thought he done it brilliantly. It was fitting in the 93rd minute of the game they had a really dangerous free kick, they whip it under the crossbar and he’s risen above everyone to head it away, taking responsibility. I said to the three boys after the game, I was so proud of them. Karl Dent is known as an attacking midfielder but he sat in there and worked so hard. He took a bit of a knock but seemed to get through it. Freddie also sacrificed himself for the benefit of the team. I asked all three to do something out of their usual comfort zone but for a club to go from strength to strength you need players that will go above and beyond what is normally asked of them. Andre Coker an out and out wide player blessed with great skill, he is running 40 yards back tracking their right back all game and did a great job too.
I don’t think we were brilliant, we were ok a draw was a fair result but what I was proud of was the work rate and desire. One thing I will say with the conditions both sets of players showed great qualities and was enjoyable on the line up against Hayden and Tutu Henriques on their bench. At the end of the game I was more than happy with the point and proud of the players through their desire. We can’t always be brilliant and if we are not we are going to grind out a result. That result will look a lot better in a few months’ time I’m sure.
Another astute piece of business in the summer was that of goalkeeper Lewis Carey. Lewis made three fine saves on Saturday to keep a clean sheet on his debut.
From a manager’s perspective you have got to have so many strings to your bow. You have to be able to coach, to man-manage and to recruit well. If you look at the players we’ve brought in over a period our recruitment is something we pride ourselves on. We don’t just gamble on people, we really do our background checks and watch players over and over again. I watched Lewis two or three times so I’m not surprised how good he is. He is the perfect fit to fill the big shoes left behind by Bluey.
Finally let’s look ahead to tonight’s first home game against Folkestone Invicta. They won their season opener and are managed by one of the great Kentish managers in Neil Cugley. What sort of game can we expect this evening?
We watched them in pre-season and we had someone at the game on Saturday. I’ve never come across Neil and our paths have never crossed to this point so am really looking forward to it. I’ve heard so many good things about him as a person and manager. I speak to Kevin Watson, the Cray Valley manager a lot and know they think very highly of him. In a sport that is so volatile for a manager to have taken charge of a club for so long and over a thousand games is a tremendous achievement and credit to him and Folkestone for the togetherness they have. They are a side who are always up there, knocking on the door around the playoffs. So for us it will be a great game to see where we are at because we know they are a quality side. I’m expecting the two boys up front to be a handful for different reasons, the wide boys are quality, are well drilled and well organised and work extremely hard for each other and will come to win the game.