Harrow Borough 2-0 VCD Athletic - It's embarrasing that we're even down there, says Vickers boss Tony Russell

Thursday 26th March 2015
Harrow Borough 2 – 0 VCD Athletic
Kickoff 24/03/2015 20:15

Ryman Premier League
Tuesday 24th March 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Earlsmead Stadium

VCD ATHLETIC manager Tony Russell says he’s feeling deflated after losing this vital relegation six-pointer at the hands of Harrow Borough.


Kick-off was delayed for 30 minutes after the away side took three hours to get from their Crayford ground to Earlsmead Stadium, despite their coach leaving at half-past-four.

LATE KICK-OFF: VCD Athletic assistant manager Ray Powell (left), pictured beside manager Tony Russell with the Ryman League Division One North championship trophy, was one of the first to arrive at Earlsmead as he drove to the ground from Epsom, where he was working.
Photo: VCD Athletic FC

Harrow Borough kept their survival hopes alive by claiming a 2-0 victory, courtesy of an own-goal from Vickers’ left-back Grant Basey in the first half, before Michael Peacock came up from the back to head home early in the second half.

VCD Athletic – who went up as Ryman League Division One North champions last season – are finding life in the Ryman Premier League tough and remain second-from-bottom in the table with 35 points (eight wins and eleven draws) from their 40 games and have six games left to avoid going down at the first attempt.

“Pretty much our season in a game of football really,” admitted a deflated Russell after his side suffered their 21st league defeat of the season.

“Turn up, play alright, more chances than the other team, can’t score goals. It’s as simple as that!

“We can’t play football on that pitch, it was bobbly everywhere. We had more chances, we had more shots than them and we just haven’t got that (goalscorer) up front unfortunately and that’s mine and Razor (assistant manager, Ray Powell) fault recruitment wise. We messed up and if we go down, it’s quite likely now, it’s because of that because no team has dominated us.”

But despite their late arrival, VCD Athletic started better than a nervous looking Harrow Borough side, who went into the game unbeaten in seven games.

Nick Reeves drove a free-kick into the wall from 25-yards before stroking his rebound wide of the left-hand post inside the opening seven minutes.

But Vickers’ best chance of the first half fell to winger Lanre Azeez soon after.

Goalkeeper Nick Blue launched a big kick straight down the heart of the pitch, which was flicked on by lone striker Leigh Bremner to put Azeez through on goal.

However, despite only having goalkeeper Nick Jupp to beat, he dragged his shot across goal and past the far post from 12-yards.

“That’s (arriving late) not the reason. We actually started the brighther. It was all us, the first 25 mintues,” said Russell.

“We’re not good enough in the final third, that’s it!  We played Grays Athletic twice, whoever was at the game will tell you we absolutely dominated the game, dominated chances and we only get one point.

“I go as far and say if we had people in the final third who’d score goals we’d be in the play-offs!

“If you went round all the managers in this league and asked them when they’ve played us, we’ve controlled the game for long periods, dominated games and just not taken our chances.”

Reflecting on Azeez’s missed opportunity, Russell said: “I said to him at half-time and he just said it was jumping up, bobbling up. We had a few like that.  Taylor (McDonagh) went through in the second half and it was jumping up like a grenade.

“James Duckworth had a chance in the first half when he brought it down and he took too long (and the shot was blocked).

“First 25 minutes, the goalie’s tipped one over from Dawson. It was all us!

“When I go to work I don’t talk about football no more because they must think I’m nuts! I say the same thing every week!  We dominate. We had more chances than them but we lost because we’ve not taken our chances!”

VCD Athletic created another good chance to take the lead after seventeen minutes.

Blue fed the ball to Basey who played the ball into Sean Roberts’ feet, who found Bremner, who ran forward before playing the ball inside to central midfielder Lea Dawson, who was left unmarked to unleash a right-footed drive towards goal from 25-yards, which was tipped over the bar by Jupp’s outstretched right hand.

Six-goal striker Bremner worked tirelessly up there on his own but he had no support for the frustrating 56 minutes that he was on the pitch.

Russell added: “It’s hard because we scored 117 goals last year so you think you’ve got to stick with some of the boys. It’s probably a bridge too far.  You take people as far as you can take them.

“He got isolated because we got stuck between trying to pass it and going long.  When you try to pass it you have to go in groups to create angles.  He’s on his own so we get stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“That’s what I said to him at half-time. We either go wrap it up and say we can’t play on this pitch or we try and play but we can’t do a bit and a bit of that, it’s just pointless!”

Steve Baker’s side then enjoyed a period of keep-ball at the halfway point and Josh Webb played the ball into striker Marc Charles-Smith, who turned and hooked his right-footed shot straight at Blue from 20-yards.

Harrow Borough then created their first corner, which was taken by Ryan Hope, who cut the ball back to right-back Webb, who blazed his shot high over the bar after a poor first touch.

But Harrow Borough opened the scoring in the 28th minute.

George McCluskey’s dinked pass sailed over Ellliot Cox’s head to release Kamaron English charging down the left channel and the pacy winger reached the by-line before cutting the ball across goal into the corridor of uncertainty.

Lewis Driver slid in with Basey and the ball nestled into the bottom right-hand corner of the net and despite the home club crediting the Harrow Borough striker the goal, Russell admitted afterwards that Basey claimed the goal.

“It was actually Basey who knocked it in,” revealed Russell.

“He just spoke to me and apologised. He (English) crossed the ball, the right-back (Cox) was sleeping and Basey got in front of him and as he went to clear it, it jumped off the surface and went in.

“When a defender comes in and says he’s sorry about an own-goal, I don’t think he’ll be making it up!”

Driver broke forward on a 40-yard run but his final 20-yard shot lacked conviction and Blue made a comfortable low save.

Referee Matt Eva correctly ruled out a goal for Harrow Borough on the stroke of half-time.

His whistle was clearly blown after McCluskey swung in his left-footed free-kick into the box from the right and Blue pulled off a great save to claw out Driver’s powerful free-header high to his left - but Driver reacted to nod the ball into the net only for the celebrations to be cut short as the referee ruled a re-take.

Russell explained why his side were no longer a threat after going a goal behind.

He said: “You just imagine if you’re 40 games in and you’re a defender or a midfielder and you have the same pattern every single week!  You come out with the manager’s words ringing in your ears and all the stuff you’ve done on Thursday ringing in your ears and you come out and you’re bright and then you have chances and you’re forwards don’t take them!

“The first time they have a shot, they score. It just deflates you.  I’ve got nothing but praises for a lot of the boys. I can imagine playing in this side, it would deflate me because as a midfielder or a defender you just want something to hold into and they’re not giving that so when the other teams scores, for 10-15 minutes, it just rocks us.”

Russell admitted he was felling angry with his players during the half-time interval.

“I was angry because it’s the same c**p again if I’m honest. It’s not positive enough and when a team scores we all go negative.

“I thougth the goal was poor. The two full-backs were not good enough! I thought Coxy was sleeping and let the guy run behind him and Basey’s cleared that ball and shanked one into his own net, so he was poor. 

“They didn’t even look like getting anywhere near us. That was their first shot and we looked the more likely and one lapse and we’re behind.”

Harrow Borough created the first chance of the second half when McCluskey played the ball into David Taylor’s feet, who laid the ball off for Hope to hit a first time right-footed drive which sailed across goal and past the far post from 25-yards.

But VCD Athletic were facing a mountain to climb – both in the game and in terms of their survival hopes - when Harrow Borough doubled their lead in the 55th minute.

McCluskey swung in an inch-perfect free-kick from just outside the corner of the box with his left-foot and Peacock nipped in front of Blue to glance his header over the keeper’s right shoulder into the far corner of the net.

“Bluey’s a fantastic goalkeeper, he’s been brilliant this year but he’ll be disappointed with that,” said Russell.

“The bloke nipped in front of him. It was like Superman and it looped over him.  He’ll be disappointed it going in but I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Bluey.”

The second goal sparked Russell into making a double substitution with Bremner feeling his hamstring and Azeez going off, to be replaced by Michael Power and Malik Ouani.

Harrow Borough created a half-chance in the 67th minute when Hope and English linked up down the left but Blue gathered the ball at the near post.

But Russell couldn’t believe that Power missed a great chance to bring his side back into the game as the game edged towards the final 20 minutes.

James Duckworth’s hooked angled pass released substitute Taylor McDonagh, who cut across the penalty area before cutting the ball across the face of goal only for Power to blast his shot straight at keeper Jupp, the ball bouncing off the keeper and looping agonisingly looping over the bar.

Last season, in the league below, Power would have buried that chance!

“It’s not a good save, it’s a shocking miss,” said Russell.

“Shaggy’s two-yards out, goalie’s static on this line. He should have rolled it across. You’ve got the whole goal to aim at and he’s side-footed it into his shin.

“He’s a good finisher but he hasn’t scored for five months, it’s just dried up and it goes that way.

“Twenty minutes to go, you score, that’s us. We had them. As soon as that happens it deflates you.  It’s a poor miss! If you’re two yards out you’ve got the whole goal, just to put the ball in.  You shouldn’t be sidefooting it anywhere near the goalkeeper!”

McDonagh’s introduction added spark and urgency to Vickers’ play.

“He’s done well. He was in our youth team last year, done really well for us and he’s been really frustrated,” said Russell.

“Brems had a hamstring problem so we put two up front. We had a little bit of a go but Brems was moaning about his hamstring so I gave Taylor a little bit of a whirl and he done really well.  He had a lovely turn and he was in on goal but the ball bobbled.”

Basey played a short free-kick into Reeves and Reeves unleashed a right-footed drive from 30-yards, which deflected just past the left-hand post.

The Kent side were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the centre circle and Basey clipped the ball forward. The ball was knocked down by Dawson and McDonagh held his head in his hands in despair after his poked shot was blocked at the near post and cleared away.

Harrow Borough substitute striker Will Turl came on with three minutes to go and he was left in space to crack a right-footed volley wide of the right-hand post from 30-yards.

But VCD Athletic squandered another chance to score at the death.

Cox launched a long throw into the box from the right, which was flicked on at the near post and Dawson poked his shot past the foot of the near post from four-yards.

Russell blasted: “Even the one at the end, easy. Long throw, set back to him four-yards out. Whole goal, screwed it wide!”

Russell cast an honest opinion on the club’s first campaign at this level.  They are five points adrift of safety and have six games left to save their bacon.

“I feel angry with myself really because all of my hard work is just getting undone in front of me,” admitted Russell.

“It ain’t because anyone is out thinking us or out playing us or anything like that. 

“I think to be a good manager its four or five components. You’ve got coaching, organising, motivating etc and get the right players in and unfortunately I’ve failed.  I admit I’ve not been good enough this year!

“One thing I will do is always challenging myself always and there’s plenty things that I’ve learnt.  I’ve been in it three years and I’ve moved quite quickly and I will always look at myself and make sure that will never happen again wherever I am next year, whatever league I am in, I will make sure I have the right people to score goals.”

Vickers have scored only 39 league goals in 40 games this season.

“I’ve proably taken for granted scoring goals. If I had someone scoring goals we would be up there.  I will have no doubt.  If I was to stay up, even now, if I didn’t get into the play-offs, I’ll be disappointed because I’ve looked at the teams we’re playing against.”

When asked whether he can guide the club towards safety, Russell replied: “I will fight until the very end because I’m fed up going to football and being frustrated.”

Russell’s name has been linked with a move to one of his former playing clubs next season – so he was asked whether he will remain at VCD Athletic next season.

“It’s like I said last year, I’m never really one of those people who starts talking about next year, now.

“Literally as soon as the season finishes I’ll sit down with the chairman (Gary Rump) and see what his plans are.

“I don’t know if the chairman decided not to do it no more. He’s the one that funds it so I’ll need to see what his plans are.  I’ve got a good relationship with him, we had it last year.

“There were a lot of rumours (last summer) about going to Tonbridge Angels (before they appointed Steve McKimm) and I didn’t go and there’s other rumous about other clubs so I’ve been told.  I let other people talk. 

“They (Cray Wanderers) put a seven-dayer in for me, there’s no secret behind that, when their changed manager before Christmas.

“They put it to the club. I kindly declined it, thanked them for their interest and that’s about it.  I’ll let other people do the talking.I can’t stop people from talking.

“Like Tonbridge Angels, it was all nailed on. I even had Angels’ fans following me on Twitter – they’ve unfollowed me now.”

Lewes, now managed by former Ebbsfleet United manager Steve Brown, visit Oakwood on Saturday sitting in seventeenth-place in the table on 44 points from 39 games – four points clear of fourth-from-bottom side Harrow Borough.

“I’m expecting us to dominate the ball, have more chances than them, miss a lot, probably ending up frustrated at the end of it.  I hope I’m wrong but that’s been the pattern all season,” said Russell.

“Problem is, I’m struggling to see how we’re going to change because we’re not in a position to go out and get the answer. Listen, I drive managers mad, I’m always trying to get people in.

“It’s embarrassing that we’re even down there if I’m honest with what we’ve done and the ability that we’ve got.  The fact of the matter is we can’t put the ball in the back of the net.  You’re not going to win games and all people see are results.

“It’s the same olf rubbish but at what stage does it become embarrassing?”

Harrow Borough: Nick Jupp, Josh Webb, George McCluskey, Anthony Page, Michael Peacock, Spencer McCall (Ben Long 76), David Taylor, Ryan Hope, Marc Charles-Smith (Will Turl 86), Lewis Driver (Michael Bryan 90), Kamaron English.
Subs: John Sonuga, Michael Barima

Goals: Grant Basey 28 (own goal), Michael Peacock 55

VCD Athletic: Nick Blue, Elliott Cox, Grant Basey, Nick Reeves, Ben Payne, Lea Dawson, Dean Carpenter (Taylor McDonagh 66), Sean Roberts, Leigh Bremner (Michael Power 56), Lanre Azeez (Malik Ouani 56), James Duckworth.
Subs: Lewis Tozer, Charlie Penfold

Attendance: 179
Referee: Mr Matt Eva (Farnham, Surrey)
Assistants:  Mr Andrew Mawby (Woking, Surrey) & Mr Elliot Heward (Guildford, Surrey)