VCD Athletic 1-2 Needham Market - We were mentally gone and lacked character, says Tony Russell

Thursday 27th February 2014

Ryman League Division One North
Thursday 27th February 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Oakwood

VCD ATHLETIC manager Tony Russell says his side lacked the character to cope with their fifth game in a gruelling seven day period.

Vickers suffered their sixth league defeat in 29 league games against an impressive Needham Market side that returned to Suffolk in sixth-place in the table, level on 55 points with fifth-placed AFC Sudbury.

Russell’s side grabbed the lead against the run of play when striker Michael Power, 30, rifled home his sixth goal in only seven games for the club.

But an inspired substitution from Needham Market manager Mark Morsley had the desired effect as Ryan Crisp came off the bench to score two goals to maintain their promotion push.

Russell, 35, admitted: “We got exactly what we deserved – we were second best.  In the first half it was rubbish!

“It’s hard. I said to them at half-time obviously I understand so many games blah, blah, blah. I don’t think it was about tiredness today. Mentally, unfortunately, one or two ain’t strong enough.

“I’ve just said it to them, it ain’t about ability. The best players and the best teams don’t always win leagues but the strongest characters do and second half a couple of them were rabbits in headlights.  They were just thrashing at clearances. I’ve never seen us boot the ball so long!”

Russell admits Needham Market deserved their three points.

“The best side that I’ve seen. I look at their league position and I can’t work out why they are where they are. 

“We played them at the beginning of the season and we were flying and we were hanging on up there (in a goal-less draw).

“They’ve got every right to, they’ve got a massive wage bill.   They’ve got Kemel Izzet, Ian Westlake and Richard Logan of Ipswich but still they’ve got a lot of money and they are a good side.”

Russell made three changes to the side that beat Aveley 2-0 on Monday night, with Billy Manners, Peter Smith and Power coming in for benched trio Joe Matthews, Lea Dawson and Sherwin Stanley.

Needham Market started well, dominating possession, without really creating many clear cut chances.

Striker Ian Westlake had a right-footed shot blocked from just outside the VCD Athletic penalty area and the loose ball fell to central midfielder Kemel Izzet, who stabbed his right-footed shot across Nick Blue and past the far post inside the opening four minutes.

Needham Market won their first corner in the eleventh minute when Izzet played the ball short to winger Luke Ingram, who sent his right-footed angled drive sailing past the top of the near post.

The home side created their first chance after fourteen minutes when Uche Ibemere played the ball inside to James Duckworth, who cut inside right-back Oliver Fenn to stroke a low right-footed shot from 22-yards, which forced goalkeeper Andrew Plummer to dive to his right and to gather at the second attempt.

VCD Athletic received a slice of luck when Needham Market hit the crossbar in the 17th minute.

Westlake swung in a corner from the right towards the near post where Ingram sent his free header sailing across Blue only for the ball to bounce off the top of the crossbar.

Russell added: “I think if you look at the whole game for all their huffing and puffing, they didn’t really create anything.”

Nick Reeves clipped the ball out of Vickers’ defence and Duckworth brought the ball under his spell before turning and hitting a right-footed half-volley from eighteen-yards, which bounced into Plummer’s gloves for a comfortable save.

Keiran Morphew picked up a loose ball inside VCD’s half and cut towards the edge of the penalty area before playing the ball out to Charles, who swept his right-footed shot past the far post.

But VCD Athletic were gifted the lead with eleven minutes to go before half-time.

Plummer’s poor clearance bounced towards his central defender Christopher Hogg, who wasn’t alert to the situation and Duckworth pounced on the ball before sweeping the ball to the unmarked Power, who drilled his right-footed shot into the roof of the net, high above the keeper’s left shoulder, to score from 12-yards.

“The highlight for the first half,” said Russell.

“If you do it right I think you get drawn into a style of play so if you play a team that plays long ball and their dominating the other team tend to get dragged into long ball before you know it.

“Sometimes when you play from the back it almost tempts other teams to do it. Aveley done it on Monday and gave us the ball. They’ve done the same. Just as well. We weren’t going to score any other way!”

VCD Athletic were forced to make a half-time change with Stanley replacing Power, who suffered a knee injury.

Russell added: “He got a whack. He got an impact injury just below his knee and it’s all swollen up so he had to come off. It’s too early to tell (if he’ll miss Saturday).”

They were to rue an excellent chance to kill off Needham Market inside the opening three minutes of the second half.

Karl Dent played a low pass to Stanley, whose flicked pass played Ibemere in behind the defence and with only keeper Plummer to beat, he lashed his right-footed shot high over the near post.

Russell admitted Ibemere needs to return to the form that he showed last season.

He said: “He’s a work in motion. We had him flying last year. We got him back after he’s gone round the houses with Dartford, Thamesmead and Cray Wanderers. There’s something missing with him, that spark. We’re trying to get it out of him. He’s lost that little bit of composure. I think it’s a confidence thing.”

Needham Market also missed a decent chance when Fenn whipped in a cross from the touch-line and Charles held his head in his hands after heading wide.

Needham Market continued to dominate the league leaders and another chance was missed in the 58th minute.

Izzet spread the ball out wide to Charles, who cut past Barney Williams to reach the left by-line before whipping in an excellent low cross, which wasn’t dealt with by Blue at his near post.  The ball came out to Sheridan Driver, but the captain failed to keep his right-footed drive down.

VCD Athletic went close when Stanley cut the ball back to Duckworth, who drilled a right-footed angled shot from 25-yards, which curled agonisingly wide of the top of the far post.

Needham Market brought on Crisp and within four minutes of entering the fray he levelled the score in the 69th minute.

Russell pointed the finger of blame at his left-back Lee Craig, who allowed Crisp to cut in from the right to drill a left-footed angled effort which screamed across Blue to find the far corner.

“The first goal is horrendous defending,” bemoaned Russell.

“Duckers (James Duckworth) runs 50 yards to win the ball back, gives it to Lee Craig and gives it straight back to him into the geezer’s feet and backs away and lets him run into the box and then lets him line it up and then runs towards you. You can’t defend like that. It’s poor!

“Great finish. You can let 70% of players, wide players, forward players in the Ryman League in the box and back away from them and give them a free shot and they’ll do pretty good. You can’t defend like that!”

Needham Market almost took the lead when Westlake swung in a corner from the right and Hogg came up from the back to plant his header straight at ever-present goalkeeper Blue.

Needham Market continued to press for the winner that their play deserved and VCD Athletic were hanging on.

“We were hanging on straight from the second half,” admitted Russell.

“We had glimpses when we got in and around the box but sometimes you can play a side that were better than you and I’ve said that to the boys. If you play well and someone’s better than you, you shake their hands or whatever.

“Just worrying elements with the way in which we lost a game of football.

“Today, the worrying element, we had no a***h**e, which is a worry. If I’m honest it is a worry.”

Izzett cut back a corner from the left to substitute David Cowley, who put over a cross, which was headed wide by Samuel Nunn.

A long throw from Vickers’ fourteen-goal striker Stanley came out to Duckworth, who hooked a volley, which deflected narrowly over the crossbar.

But Needham Market sealed a deserved victory in the final three minutes, to seal  their fifteenth league win of the season.

They hit the Kent side on the break through Cowley, who released Westlake down the left.  The striker reached the by-line before he cut the ball back to Izzett, who played in Crisp, who scuffed his left-footed shot across Blue for the ball to bounce into the bottom far corner from eight-yards.

Russell said: “He’s hit a shot, a scuffed shot and it’s pinballed round there. It’s just happened to fall to their bloke nicely, five yards out.

“That’s the thing, for how bad we play, the good areas they got in, Bluey never had a save to make but it was always coming.

“I said to Razor (assistant manager Ray Powell), even though we was 1-0 up, I said we’re gone. I could see we were mentally gone.  There was no character. These boys have got good character and I’ve praised them in the past.

“First time I could see one or two and they were just dying for the final whistle and we were ten minutes into the second half.  I thought this was going to be a long half. We didn’t really have much of a bench to really try to change that.

“It’s something we have to look at. For how good some of my players are, it’s opened my eyes tonight, a couple of things I’ve seen because listen whether we do things this year or next year or whatever you need to find that out. The only way you’ll find that out is put people in situations. It’s the only way you’ll find out if they sink or swim.”

Vickers created a couple of late headed chances to salvage a point.

Stanley floated over a cross from the left towards the far post, which was glanced wide by Dent, who shortly afterwards took a corner from the right which was met by a free header from Craig at the near post, which sailed wide.

VCD Athletic complete their league campaign with seventeen games in another gruelling period of 57 days, starting with a trip to Wroxham on Saturday.

The two sides met at Oakwood in October with Vickers winning 8-0.

“If you look at their results they’ve lost in the last minute to Sudbury away last week, lost in the last minute at Thurrock, lost to Witham 2-1. They’ve completely changed so they’ve obviously must’ve done something,” said Russell.

“Like I say to them all the time, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing in this league, if we play I fancy us. If we don’t there’s a lot of good sides in this league.”

VCD Athletic remain at the summit with 63 points from 28 games and the four play-off berths are presently occupied by Soham Town Rangers (63 points from 32 games), Harlow Town (62 from 31), Dereham Town (56 from 34) and AFC Sudbury (55 from 29).

When asked about the title race, Russell said: “We’re all bunched up and it’s whoever holds their nerve I suppose.  That’s the thing. It’s whoever holds their nerve. Can you still hold your form and play with no fear especially the way we do? We just don’t bang it forward. If you play with fear and tension you look an average side and tonight we was average.

“For the first time we tensed up. There’s a long way to go to tense up now. It’s going to be a long eight weeks if we’re playing with tension.”

VCD Athletic: Nick Blue, Barney Williams, Lee Craig, Nick Reeves, Billy Manners, Peter Smith, Dean Carpenter (Lea Dawson 62), Karl Dent, Michael Power (Sherwin Stanley 46), James Duckworth, Uche Ibemere.
Subs: Sam Gent, Joe Matthews, Brad McNamara

Goal: Michael Power 34

Booked: Sherwin Stanley 65, Lee Craig 80

Needham Market: Andrew Plummer, Oliver Fenn, Darryl Coakley, Sheridan Driver, Christopher Hogg, Samuel Nunn, Luke Ingram, Kemel Izzet, Ian Westlake, Keiran Morphew (Ryan Crisp 65), Ryan Charles (David Cowley 66).
Subs: Russell Malton, Sam Newson, Nathan Munson

Goals:  Ryan Crisp 69, 87

Attendance: 70
Referee: Mr Oleksandr Saliy (Enfield, Middlesex)
Assistants:  Mr Alperen Nayir (New Malden, Surrey) & Mr Errol Walker (Colliers Wood, London SW19)

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