Moneyfields vs. Cray Wanderers

The pre-match thoughts of Tony Russell

Pics: Jon Hilliger –

We’ve come to the end of a busy September with the end of pre-season and a 100% winning record to start the season for Cray Wanderers and over double figures for goals. Here Tony Russell looks back at a busy week with wins at East Thurrock and Folkestone, looks ahead to the FA Cup tie with Moneyfields, talks about the injury situation and a new arrival to the Wands. Also Tony gives his views on the current situation in non-league football.

We’ve come to the end of September Tony and well done to you and the team for Cray Wanderers best ever start to an Isthmian Premier Season with three wins and also in double figures for goals.

Let’s look back to Tuesday night and an excellent win at a very good Folkestone side. What are your thoughts after the 3-1 win.    

Well Tuesday followed the same pattern as the rest of the games really getting to the stage before the game and just trying to put a side out if I’m honest.  Bradley Pritchard and Jason Banton couldn’t play, Kyron is out, Lee Lewis pulled out the morning of the game. So we went into the game with three fit central midfielders. Tom Phipp has just come back from injury and played just ten minutes at East Thurrock on Saturday, Charlie Allen has come back after a month out after ankle ligament damage and we’ve been wheeling him out and having to play ridiculous amounts of minutes  so I was concerned coming into the game with two fit wingers and Jerome Federico has only just come back into the squad so at the moment I’m not really having much time to concern myself about who we are playing if I’m honest and more about making sure to get a team out and have enough cover on the bench. Ben Mundele was on the bench but has only just come back from a hamstring injury so can’t put him in to start. So that has been the main concern all season.

Folkestone are a very good side and I’m sure when Hendy’s video comes out the team talk shows before the game about how much respect I have for their manager, Neil Cugley who has been there a long time and year after year they lose their best player and just brings in another set of players and they are always up there winning games of football.  You have to give him so much credit and to Folkestone so any time you go to play them either home or away it is always going to be a hard game so to go there with a depleted squad it was always going to be tough. At the moment anyone who has watched all our games we can’t really open up and often have to cool it off. We have periods when we play really well perhaps for a good 20 minutes – half hour so when we went 2-1 up we just had to slow the game right down because physically we are not there yet in terms of going there and batter teams for 90 minutes and have to manage bodies.  You saw Phippo at the end he couldn’t walk anymore and we had to put Barney in centre midfield and bring Ben on. Barney is not a central midfielder but we had no one else so the boys are doing brilliantly and won four games out of four and with the greatest respect all four games they deserved to win. They were the better side and not like we are lucking out but certainly not hitting the levels we know we can hit as a group but once we get bodies back there will be vast improvements in our performances.

Although I still thought we were good, we film the games and our software that comes back with all the figures, how many shots on or off target but also gives us possession. First half against East Thurrock we had 75% possession which is massive and against Folkestone 65% in the whole game. I thought the first 10-15 minutes they came out of the blocks really well, it was a bit frantic and took us a while to get into the game but once we did we controlled it and got on the ball and dictated it we looked a good side. It was 1-1 at half time but felt maybe not a fair reflection of the game and looked the most likely to score.  There was one time when Rhys went through and squared it to JT and just overegged the pass and a couple of crosses came in and little through balls which just went awry in the box. At half time it was about just continuing to dominate the game and we know if we control it we’ll win it. I thought we ran out worthy winners without being at our very best. Talking to Neil after and other managers as well they seem to be having the same problem with injuries and being down to the bare bones.  I spoke to Paul Hughes at Hayes & Yeading and he is having the same thing with five players out like us and Folkestone had four or five missing so all struggling to get players out on the pitch.

Pleasing that the spirit is still in our squad to find a way to win, could we continue the momentum we had last season, yes we have. We are definitely on the front foot and looking to win every game and the boys have bought into that.

It was also a good challenge for us as we had gone behind in a game for the first time this season but what a great finish from Joe Taylor to level up and his 50th goal in 63 games. That is quite a stat!

The first of Joe Taylor’s 50 goals for Cray Wanderers – 8/12/18 Pic Jon Hilliger

If you look at that stat, when he first came in like many players when we first sign them, it took him about two months to really get used to us and what we do and had a slow start, missed a few chances and wasn’t quite at it but to me every month he has been with us he is getting better and better. I thought he was unbelievable last season but I think he has gone up a level this year. I don’t think there is a better striker in our level of football right now. He has got everything. The goal he scored he probably wouldn’t have scored last year as he was so obsessed with everything into feet which he is brilliant at but now if you look at it even in the pre-season games the goals he is scoring, he is running in behind for balls down the side. If you look back at his last 40 games it will be interesting to see how many goals he has got and must be nearly averaging a goal a game.

The 50th goal for JT on Tuesday night vs Folkestone Invicta – Pic Jon Hilliger

The two goals in the second half to win it were superb strikes especially when you were behind the goal. Great finish from Charlie Allen who took the leather off the ball with his strike and then Rhys Murrell-Willamson who wasn’t having much luck in the game curled a beauty to make it 3-1.

To be fair to Rhys he was having an absolute nightmare and was getting all frustrated in the first half and their goal came from him he was inching into midfield and volleyed the ball back meaning to go to the centre-half but went straight to their forward who played it out wide, they crossed it and scored. So I looked around and his arms were all flailing about and we spoke to him at half time and said we know you haven’t had a great half but what you are is a great player so what good players do is they don’t dwell on it. You keep believing and that quality will always shine through. In the end, he came alive second half, starting to go past their full back and caused him trouble, he had a shot go just wide near the end too and that is the quality you get with Rhys. I flagged it afterwards in the huddle even when he wasn’t playing well or if Jerome Federico had a quiet ten minutes they were working so hard, making sure they got back and doubling up helping their full back and I said at the end of the day there will be plenty of games where we play very well and games where we don’t play well and when we don’t we must become hard to beat and work hard for each other. What we have as a group is they are such an honest group of players that although I thought that they did more than enough to win that game if any neutrals in the ground thought we were the better side it was quite clear to see but what was also clear to see was that Folkestone had spells in the game where they put us under pressure, especially the first ten minutes and maybe the last fifteen they really upped it and if you watched the boys were throwing themselves in front of things, blocking shots and that resulted in them having long range efforts and many of their shots were ballooned over the bar, or taking pot shots and didn’t create any real chances and shooting from 18 yards but never getting in behind us and defended as a team well and every time we went forward we carried a threat.

Joe Vines took Hendy’s bag home by accident on Saturday and only just got his camera back on Tuesday so hasn’t uploaded the video of the East Thurrock game yet. After that game I said I thought we needed to up our levels and maybe I’m being a bit harsh but keep saying afterwards well done but we can play better or I want more. I stood there and thought after the third game I didn’t want to be seen to be moaning at them so what I said was I might be asking too much but let’s see as Tuesday at Folkestone will be a great gauge to know where we are as a team. Folkestone always give you everything they’ve got, whenever I watched them last year you know they are never going to give you the game. You’ve got to play well to beat them. If you do you will beat them as they are beatable but if you don’t you will get beat.  So I challenged the boys to see where we are at. So after the Folkestone game in the huddle after I said I think we can play better but you’ve just come to a tough away game and did it well and professionally.  Considering the amount of injuries we’ve got and the amount of games we are playing maybe asking too much to get more out of them because ultimately we are in a results business and have won four out of four.

Let’s look back to last Saturday and the 3-1 win at East Thurrock United. I felt despite the cold and windy conditions we had the game won at half time.

It was a weird game. I went to watch East Thurrock at Potters Bar midweek their forward Alfie Cue didn’t play against us and their other centre-forward they dropped him or on the bench so ended up playing 3-5-2 which is how they set up but instead of playing two centre-forwards they had them playing out wide so never really played with a centre-forward.  This meant that Mitchell and Jay had no one to mark and when we got the ball they had no-one in front of them so it was like a kids game where you get a goal kick and everyone retreats to the halfway line. It was just us having the ball then we’re retreating and us trying to break down eleven men behind the ball. They had a couple of chances where we’ve become impatient and then we give it away and the no 8 has gone through and poked the ball wide. So it nearly worked I suppose but the problem with that is once we scored they still have the same players on the pitch so keeping men behind the ball so we are ok, we are the away team and 1-0 up. They did start to come out at us a little bit but obviously scored a great goal with the front three involved, Rhys, went past a player and played the ball out to Jason Banton who dropped the centre-half in the box and squared the ball to JT to score. Those three and Freddie behind are frightening. At this level of football it is ridiculous and could score 80 goals between them this season. The flair, the pace and the finishing ability of those four and the brains they’ve got is amazing. However, I think we got caught up a little bit as we came out second half and made it 3-0 and I felt we got really sloppy and switched off. You see that with the calamity chance where, Lew has rolled it out to Mitchell and he’s not looking at the ball and all of a sudden the ball is rolling and it was like panto season, it’s behind you! Then there forward has nipped in, gone round the keeper and Jay has cleared it off the line, then Mitch clears off the line. 

They scored near the end and that annoyed me as it was such a comfortable day then we all of a sudden we are having to defend. In a way it was like the Fisher game, we deserve to win the game and Kingstonian but because we finished those games quite sloppy it is leaving me with the hump at the end of the game. I’m saying well done but saying but all the time. I suppose it is keeping them all honest. It sounds like I’m moaning at them all the time but I’m not.  The spirit in the camp is good, Martin will tell you he comes to training on Wednesday and we were doing some tactical stuff on Moneyfields and he walked into the tent at Bromley where we all were and the noise levels were like walking into a zoo, the screaming and shouting and laughing.

The half time team talk at the Fisher game, Hendy has never seen me react in the way I did and he’s been in the dressing room with me since year dot. I don’t react like that normally but I felt we had been down this road before when we played Rusthall in the FA Cup who were Kent League and we drew at home and then drew away and won on penalties and it was like groundhog day and I just wasn’t going to accept it. I think they worked that out at half time that isn’t going to happen any more. I didn’t think we showed Fisher enough respect we looked at the level they were at and thought we just had to turn up and win. That wasn’t going to happen and when you get in that rut of not taking it too seriously and not doing the basics well it becomes a harder game than it needs to be. Full credit to Fisher, I thought we were worthy winners but we could have made it more easier.  Sometimes in cup games it happens and for some reason my records in cups is horrendous so hoping to turn that around.

Let’s look now to Saturday and the FA Cup tie at Moneyfields which hopefully will go ahead as the weather forecast in the south isn’t great. We played them three seasons ago in the FA Trophy so not new opponents but what do you know about Moneyfields?

Well they played on Tuesday night and we’ve got a report from the game so the boys know all about them. We spoke about their threats and strengths and weaknesses. So we are just going to prepare like the game is going to take place Saturday and we don’t really want another midweek game ideally. Equally though it gives us the chance to have one or two more available if it is a midweek game.  They are quite a robust side from the message we’ve got but they go to a big no 10, they are quite vocal at the referee and they’ve got a guy in midfield who can be quite aggressive and someone at the back who is quite loud but it is nothing that we haven’t faced before. They are a good side and a hard place to go and we’ll give them the respect they deserve as we did when we played them before when it was a hard fought game and drew 1-1 and sure it will be no different. Hopefully for both teams we can get the game on and for both clubs to play it and move on.

You alluded to the injury situation earlier. Some news for fans of a new signing to the club, Herson Rodrigues Alves.  What can you tell us about Herson and the position he will play.

Herson Rodrigues Alves, a new arrival at Cray Wanderers – Pic – courtesy of Brentford FC

Herson is a wide player and used to play for Benfica as a youth and then came to England and played for Brentford and left to go to Maidenhead United last season. He is 23, a 6ft2 winger, Portuguese and came training with us Wednesday and signed him just as cover and down to the bare bones. Jason Banton is unlikely to play Saturday and may be a bit too soon but if we play Tuesday he will be available. Jason has an ongoing groin problem and has been managing it and why he hasn’t been playing 90 minutes. It has got to the point after the East Thurrock game where it just blew up and Ally said he needs a period of rest, at least a week and that’s why he didn’t play against Folkestone and not against Moneyfields on Saturday. We think a week will do it so could play Tuesday against either Moneyfields or Potters Bar Town. We do need to get those wide options in as we only have Jerome Federico and Rhys Murrell-Williamson so if any of them get injured we wouldn’t have cover. Herson was available, a very good player with a good pedigree so has come into the squad initially for the short term but if needs be we could extend his stay.

(In connection to not over-announcing new signings a la Jason Banton)

I think sometimes in pre-season lots of managers they like the big hype that comes with signing new players. They throw it out there, “he’s a good player, a baller” and words like that and it is almost like a front to build themselves up. Look at me I’ve signed this guy, another big signing.  The problem with that is there comes a time when the talking has to stop and you have to deliver. So I’m not really that guy who needs to throw out every signing and make a big fanfare about it. We announced it very briefly in an interview we had signed Jason Banton and he has scored three goals, set up three in three games.  I am happy to talk about it but I rarely go on social media and talk about what we do and say he’s brilliant. I just prefer to get on with it, do our work on the training pitch and do our talking there and not on social media. I think some people in life have to do that to boost themselves up and convince themselves. We feel we don’t have to do that as we know what we can do.  Now everyone thinks Jason is a great signing and maybe we should have done fireworks and paraded him. Most people didn’t know who he was but if you asked the boys on the terrace now what they think of Jason they would be very impressed with him.

Also in a previous interview I said that Freddie will be like a new signing and you alluded to Joe Taylor’s goal against Folkestone earlier but there was passing along the back and Freddie found a lovely little pocket and first touch spun and second touch outside of the boot put him clean through. So if he is not scoring goals he is creating them. For the third goal for Rhys, we kept the ball for a long time for that goal and a lot of passes for the buildup to the goal and it was a great goal. We moved them from side to side, back, forward, back across and isolated Rhys one on one and that’s when he scored after his initial shot was blocked.  Freddie has already scored three goals and I think he will get 20 goals and not many midfielders in our league will do that. There is much to be excited about.

I think we’ve used 20 odd players this season already and only played a few games. The good thing about that is, Kyron is still about two weeks away, he was in training Wednesday and his ankle is better but still needs a bit of work.  Bradley Pritchard is possibly okay for Tuesday but not Saturday, Banton back Tuesday, Ben is gaining fitness all the time. Denty is a long term injury and may not see him this side of Christmas with an ongoing knee issue. Apart from Karl we should have everyone back in the next two weeks as we do have a busy October and then we have a fully fit squad and all of a sudden the options look really good. If we can get through this period as we have done so far, we’ve had to recall Femi from Erith & Belvedere and has come on and done well, Emanuel has come on, Roman has been in the squad so like we’ve always done not been afraid to give youngsters a chance. We’ve got a bigger squad in terms of numbers, with 18 rather than 16 players.  So we did prepare ourselves for this and the amount of games to play and we’ve good youngsters in the background. I think it will be a season where the team that does well will be the one that deals with injuries and the best squad. We’ve asked the club can we carry two extra players this year and its proven right.  Once we are all back we will get a little more consistent and I think Kyron Richards will have a big season this year. Also in midfield we’ve got Charlie Allen, Tom Phipp, Lee Lewis, Kyron, Freddie, Bradley so now our midfield options are strong and Jason, Jerome, Rhys and Herson so plenty of options as wingers. We’ve got Martin, Jay and Mitchell as centre-halves, then Ben, Barney, Carlsey, as fullback options and we’ve got good players coming out of our ears.  

Femi Abatan vs Folkestone Invicta


Finally, when we spoke back in April when the 2019-20 season ended many of your predictions on how the season would end were correct. What do you think of the current situation with the clubs in Step 1 & 2 whose season should be starting on Saturday but without supporters.

This is the problem, Steps 1 & 2 have. So last year when this all happened they made a massive noise saying we want to be treated like elite teams. There was court letters, legal issues, and a big energy and movement. In Step 2, on the back of that they were recognised for it and so the top team got promoted, the teams in the playoff places got to play playoffs and the teams in the relegation places got a reprieve. You step down to our level where owners have pumped in millions of pounds at Step 3, 4, 5 etc on wages, ground maintenance or whatever and they got nothing. Not one thing. Just got told that’s you done. Forget that season. They fought so hard for the elite level, the problem now is they are being treated like the elite, Championship and League 1 & 2, and now they don’t like it. We can’t play, we can’t have fans, it is not fair. I think they should have fans in to watch them and common sense says that but you can’t have your cake and eat it. There wasn’t such a big energy about us and hearing them moaning about Step 3 and below being told that’s your lot. Although I don’t want to see any non-league side struggling or any team go under because I love non-league and the people in it but just a little frustrated why didn’t you have this same fight for everyone if we are all in this together.

My prediction is in the next two weeks they will shut non-league football anyway and put us on a two week break and try to control the infection rate going up and have done that in the North East of England where people cannot watch games of football. I think the National League clubs will get a bailout from the FA so probably want to keep the elite tag for that reason. I think they will play the games behind closed doors and stream the games to fans and a bail out to help them through the season.  Originally they were not classed as elite and fought hard for that tag so now they have it, three months later they want to lose the tag. Not all the teams are like that, there are some in those steps that didn’t want the elite status perhaps teams in mid-table. I feel sorry for the clubs and the fans that they can’t watch them but frustrated as they got everything they wanted last season and got all the promotions and no relegations and was very one-sided and we got nothing and no energy to try and help us and the clubs at our level and below. So many of our clubs lost money with the season ending with nine games to go but still had to pay out for groundstaff, groundsmen, bar staff etc. Part of me has sympathy with them but on the other hand, you wanted it all one minute and then whinge about it straight after. Be careful what you wish for and you wanted the elite tag and now you’ve got it you want to drop it because it is not benefitting you. Last season Step 3 and below was treated like pub football but now teams at Step 3 are cashing in a bit with the FA Cup and recouping a bit of money and the step 2 clubs don’t like it as fans can’t watch the cup games. 

To be fair a number of Step 3 & 4 clubs are supporting the Let Fans In campaign and it is good but we cannot call it a footballing community because there wasn’t that unity when we needed it last season. It seemed a case of pull the ladder up Jack last season. We’ve got our promotions, playoffs but we don’t have any relegations so some managers kept their jobs on the back of having a bad season and not getting relegated. If we don’t get our way we will throw our toys out the pram and don’t want the elite tag anymore.          

I think there will be a package to help the elite clubs and the FA allow the fans in or help out financially but with a letter to say next time don’t bring this much energy to something  as next time there may not be a bailout for you just don’t such spoilt brats next time.