Five (very belated) thoughts from the 3-3 draw with Margate:
1. The classic game of two halves, then. For the first 45 minutes, Margate were bright, inventive, organised and in control of territory and possession, going into the break deservedly 3-1 up; in the second half, Kingstonian were completely dominant and were unlucky not to win it. In fact, K’s were more than dominant: perhaps rampant is a better word to describe just how one-sided the second period turned out to be. As a Kingstonian fan it’s tempting to conclude that the 1-3 scoreline at half time was simply because K’s weren’t at the races, but given that as I write this Margate have just beaten league favourites Lowestoft, it looks more and more like K’s second half performance was exceptional.
2. So what changed at half-time? Well, the weather, for starters. The picture doesn’t do anything approaching justice to the apocalyptic conditions just before and during half time. It rained so hard that the majority of the behind-the-goal K’s faithful – seldom shy of seeking out a drink at any opportunity – failed to get their half-time pint altogether, preferring the relative shelter of the Athletics End to a dash to the bar. The greasy surface which resulted from the deluge certainly helped K’s play a high tempo game after the break. More importantly, I’d hazard a guess that the players weren’t spared a bollocking, and that probably led to the initial forward momentum at the start of the second half. There’s no doubt that there was a general lack of intensity at the start of the game from those in hoops: K’s were losing tackles, slow to the ball, and pedestrian going forward. By contrast, the attitude in the second half was magnificent: to a man, K’s snapped into challenges, closed down Margate doggedly, and played the game at pace in the ‘Gate half, on the front foot. This was reflected in the shouts from the home faithful. “Get stuck in K’s”, “F*cking wake up, boys” and my personal favourite, “SECOND BALL KINGSTON!” were replaced by “GREAT CHALLENGE, SON”, “Keep it going, K’s” and the “oohs” and “aahs” of shots hitting woodwork or fizzing past the post.
3. But there was a lot more to this comeback than desire: after all, if football was just about passion, England wouldn’t be sh*te. The double substitution at half time may very well have been the key event in the game. Off went the strangely off-key starting centre-mid pairing of Ofusu-hene and Sankoh, and on came Matt Pattison and Karl Murray. Pattison did what Pattison does: taking up intelligent positions off the ball, waiting in space, and then using the ball efficiently when he did receive it. And the reason he did receive it so often was due to an immense performance from Karl Murray in central midfield. To put it simply, he absolutely bossed it: every time Margate got the ball back when a K’s move broke down, they ran into the brick wall that was Murray, who then calmly sidefooted the ball to a more creative player further up the pitch. Tactically, K’s were set up like a 90s vintage Manchester United with Murray in the Keane role, almost playing a 2-4-4 at times, forcing Margate onto the back foot and deeper and deeper into their own half. It was brave, but it worked.
4. This second half dominance was maintained in no small part due to the display of Aaron Goode, who was nominally the right back. The normally solid full back seemed to channel the spirit of Cafu and marauded up and down the right flank continually, and with Dean Lodge keeping Margate’s right back more than occupied, this allowed Matt Pattison and Sam Clayton to operate where they could cause Margate the most problems: through the middle. Yet despite seeming to spend most of his time in the Margate penalty area, Goode still popped up with several key interceptions and covering challenges at the back to prevent rare counter-attacks. Magnificent.
5. Something that I hope won’t be a recurring theme on this blog this season: a final note about the officials. Referees have a tough job, especially at Kingsmeadow, where there’s long been a tradition of putting the man in black under pressure from the stands. (And it has to be said: even with a crowd of 300, this approach nearly always bears fruit, which is why it continues season after season). Referees and linesmen make mistakes – in fact, they make a lot of mistakes when you get down to Ryman League level – but human error is understandable, and a part of the game.
What is unforgivable, however, is when officials make a mistake because they don’t seem to know the laws of football. Midway through the second half, the linesman on the Grolsch Stand side gave offside when the ball arrived at the feet of Dean Lodge, through on goal. Andre McCollin was about 5 yards offside when the ball was played, but very clearly walking back towards midfield, making absolutely no attempt to join in the move; Lodge was about 10 yards onside when the ball was played (I was standing in line). I cannot express without a video just how obviously Lodge was onside, and just how obviously McCollin wasn’t interfering with play. I’ve seen some incredible decisions over the years in non-league football, but this was the worst: it wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t human error, it was pure incompetence. As a result of raising his flag the linesman was subjected to a torrent of abuse from those in the Grolsch Stand, but I have to say, just this once, that it was fully deserved. Any one of the 335 paying punters in the ground could have done a better job than him of running the line – even the half-blind old man in the main stand, because at least he’d know the rules. And there endeth the rant.
Man Of The Match: Aaron Goode – the best of a bad bunch in the first half, and sensational in the second half
Key Moment: Karl Murray’s introduction at half time
Away Fans Watch: 7/10 – decent numbers for this league, and a bit of noise in the first half. Lost points for suddenly going very, very quiet when under pressure after half time