Congratulations to Tony Russell who celebrated his 100th league win as Cray Wanderers manager at Merstham on Tuesday night.  Here Tony reflects on this achievement as well as looking back to the Merstham and Enfield Town games and a look ahead to the trip to Lewes on Saturday. 

Congratulations on the 100th league win at Merstham. Was that a nice stat to wake up to on Wednesday?

 Yes it was.  I’m a great fan of stats and every club I’ve been at I’ve looked to try and set new goals for each one.  At Erith Town I took them top of the league where they’d never been before and won the Kent Senior Trophy. At VCD Athletic we went 34 games unbeaten and won the Isthmian North for the first time.  Now at Cray Wanderers I’m looking to aim for us to reach our highest ever league place which is currently ninth and on a personal level would love to do that.  For any manager that should be the ultimate goal.

These 100 wins have come in four different Isthmian League divisions and you have a 54% win ratio which is very good.

When I came here we had to change the entire side as we weren’t winning enough games and there was one season when Bromley were going to rip the pitch up and with the budget cut we had to blood a few youngsters so to see I had a 54% win ratio was pretty good going.  Also I liked the photos on the Facebook page as these really summed my time up since coming to Cray.  Pictures of me with football friends and with the league title with my family and that is what drives me on in football.

Let’s look back to the win at Merstham as I thought we were impressive and was reminiscent of some of last season’s performances, good going forward and strong at the back.

We talked about the game at training tonight, the boys were a bit stiff following the game. I thought from a tactical viewpoint we were very impressive.  They played 3-5-2 and tried to press us at the start and play similar to the way Bishop’s Stortford did against us but tactically we were very good and stretched them out and left JT one on one with their centre-half and nearly got joy when Ben was played through and nearly scored.  Turning up at the game you’d probably think why aren’t they pressing us?  They tried to but we reacted to it.

We are developing brains as well as technique, people think we just turn up and pass the ball around but tactically we are very astute and all the players know their role in the team and whatever we ask of them or something new they react to it.    I thought we were brilliant on Tuesday night after a shaky start.  Our worst case scenario is a dry, bobbly pitch and a tight one as well. After all the rain the ball was jumping about and for their goal, the ball came to Carlsey, it jumped up off his foot, the no 9 picked up the ball, crossed the ball and Merstham scored from it.  After that despite the small pitch we managed it very well, took control of the game and scored a great goal to level.  Credit must go to Joe Taylor for that as we had watched the Enfield game back and we didn’t quite realise how well we played in that game.  For the first hour we looked like a side who had just come up.  We were defending too high and up front we were a bit static.  The Enfield forwards were always on the move and looking to get in front of people.  If you look at JT’s goal at Merstham it was brilliant. I said to him that was the best goal he has scored in his time with us. We get a throw in, it goes onto Denty, he peels off away from the centre-half, gets in front of him and volley’s the ball into the top corner.  He hadn’t done that for us before and if we can improve him by 1% this year we could make him an even better player with that movement and sharpness.  JT is superb, he loves playing for us and is a joy to have around the club.  All the players are to be fair and we’ve had a good discussion about the Lewes game and that they play three different formations. We discussed all three formations and scenarios how to deal with them and all the players gave their views and how we would play with and without the ball.

I thought it was a very mature performance at Merstham especially the second half where we just took control of the game.  We made them very work hard and gradually wore them down, took it out of their legs and they never had a shot on goal during that last half hour.  We could have possibly scored another couple at the end but it was our most mature display of the season and I said that to them at the end of the game.  Merstham are a good side with decent players and I watched them play Worthing last month and although they lost the game for 70 minutes it was a very even match so to nullify them was excellent.

We looked like a well-oiled machine on the night and there wasn’t a bad performance by any player but in particular mentions to Andre Coker, Charlie Allen and Ben Mundele.

I thought one of the pleasing things that came out of the game was Andre’s performance.  He had struggled after being out for six weeks and getting his fitness and sharpness back and was getting a bit frustrated and down on himself.  I knew he was a good player and why I tried so hard to get him in during the summer. I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of him but we have seen glimpses of what he can do.  There are things that he does in training that he hasn’t produced yet in a match which are frightening.  We had a one to one session the other day and what he was doing to the defenders, we had to take him out as we didn’t want them to lose confidence.  He was doing tricks and flicks and the boys couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  He’s got everything and just needs to transfer that to matches.  At training we put our arms round him and said that’s more like it and there’s more from him to come.

Charlie is very popular in the dressing room, a bubbly character and he’s been really patient for waiting for his turn in the team but he is appreciated for what he gives us and this is showing in his recent performances.

I think with Ben there is still a bit of a hangover after what happened to him at Bury in the summer and I don’t think it will be until after Christmas until we see the real Ben. I think he is caught between a rock and hard place he probably has his eye on a professional contract but we’ve got a very good dressing room, everyone gets on and supports each other that we are we all get on, and in the four years I’ve been here, it’s been hard work but we’ve got a fantastic squad.

It’s looking good and Phippsy will be available Saturday and it’s going to be exciting as for the first time this season we will have everyone available.  We are looking to tie up a loan deal with Whitstable Town for Freddie Parker for a month. We are keen for him to work with Lloyd Blackman down there and it will be good for him to get some games. Marcus Evans is there and really likes it and we are also looking to get Charles Etumnu out on loan too for the same reason.

It must have been reassuring for you and the team to have Jay Leader back for the last couple of games

In all my time in non-league football I don’t think I’ve ever seen a centre-half like him what he can do with the ball and is a bit of a freak of nature to be honest.  He was a bit sore after the game where he has played two matches in a short space time where he hasn’t been playing.  He and Mitchell are tight and good friends and complement each other so well.  Our spirits are very high and training and bonding well as a group and in a good place. This is the best squad of players I’ve had in the time I’ve been here and the players love playing for the club.  It’s just keeping everyone happy. I’ve got seven players who haven’t played enough minutes, two we are going to send out on loan and the other five are going to have to fight it out for the shirt for the starting XI.  The players all make good, persuasive and valid points like Tom Murphy, why aren’t I playing when I’m scoring goals?  Tom is a great finisher, the best at the club but we are blessed with good forwards like, Ben, Tom, Andre, Jerome and JT and that’s what being at a good club is all about.

Looking back to the Enfield Town game.  A remarkable game of football and the complete opposite to the rather cagey affair at Haringey. What were your thoughts of the game?

We’ve had a look back at the whole game and it is an unbelievable game of football.  Take the goals out of it we have played so well.  They are a good side but looking back you’d wonder how have we lost that?  We felt from feedback that we didn’t show them enough respect as the information the centre-halves had before the game was that if you allow their no 10, Muhammadu Faal to get across you he will finish and he is equally good with his back to goal.  We tried to play a high line and play offside in the first half and he got in twice and scored. Second half we sorted it out and he wasn’t as influential but Ken Charles has scored two well taken goals and then a shot from distance is deflected in and suddenly it is 5-1.  At this stage I took my earphones off at 5-1 to hear what was going on and I could hear the likes of Tom Carlse, Charlie Allen, Mitchell Nelson encouraging the other players at 5-1 down.  Some teams would have folded but the noise levels from those players, I said to them at the end I have never been so proud of them the way they carried on and tried to turn it around.  Enfield have had one of those days and good luck to them as we’ve all had them when everything they have hit has gone in.  We’ve reacted to that to the point where Enfield are asking how long there is to go and at 5-1 up after 70 minutes you shouldn’t be asking that.  We’ve pulled it back to 5-3, we’ve hit the post and missing headers, had one off the line. Suddenly they are hanging on for dear life.  I said to them if you are going to lose a game of football then that is the way to go down fighting.  We’ve learned following the game not to allow a centre-forward to get in front of you and also to respect more the teams in this league as we can’t just turn up like last season and expect to coast through games.  We’ve given feedback to the players and they turned up at Merstham far more respectful and learned from Saturday, JT scored his goal where he’s got in front of the defender and doesn’t normally do that.  While we are doing that we are learning and that’s all you’ve got to ask.  This is a good league but it has got to that point of the season where we realise, we are not a bad side. Word has got around about us and other teams are more respectful towards us. We certainly aren’t going to be an easy three points for anyone.

I’m enjoying it, the quality of the managers here is very high and Enfield’s manager Andy Leese was very nice to us after the game and said they was fortunate to come out of that with a win and we’ve gone down well at boardroom levels as well complimenting us on our style of football.  It’s an unforgiving league where we are going to get our pants pulled down once in a while.  Along as we keep going, keep getting better and pushing, giving everything we’ve got who knows where we can end up as that is the great thing about football. You can never rule anything out.

 Looking ahead to Lewes what sort of game can we expect against a side historically we haven’t had much luck against?

We’ve had a good look at them and spoke about the game Wednesday night and was very in-depth and received good information and I’ve watched them and gave my two pennies worth.  It would be nice if we can keep 11 men on the pitch against them to be honest.  They are a fantastic club, Darren Freeman is a good manager who has done well for them, they are well organised so it’s not going to be easy and they get good crowds.  It should be another great game and we are looking forward to it.