Jingle Bells – Cray (A)

Na na na na naaah,
Na na na na na naaah,
Na na na na na na na,
Na na na na na naah,
HEY!

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to see
Kingstonian beating Cray

(Repeat for 10 minutes)

Sung gleefully by the travelling fans behind the goal for the last few minutes, the trip to Bromley turned into a fun day out – but for a long time that didn’t seem likely. A slightly over-enthusiastic lunchtime ale session, coupled with over-confidence about just how close the station was to the ground, led to a rather uncomfortably brisk walk to make it to Hayes Lane in time for kick off – only to be greeted the other side of the turnstiles by the players on the pitch still completing their warm-up. “In case you haven’t heard, kick off has been delayed for 20 minutes,” came the announcement over the tannoy, which meant that all the effort to get there for 3 was not rewarded. Fortunately, Bromley seemed to have installed a fantastic bar since my last visit, complete with a panoramic view of the pitch. It would have been rude not to have a pint – and in fact, so comfortable was it watching proceedings from inside, that I only ventured out into the damp cold surroundings of Hayes Lane after about 15 minutes of the first half.
IMG_0024 Most of me wished I’d stayed in the bar: Cray were dominant in both territory and possession, and it took two good Rob Tolfrey saves, plus one magnificent stop, to get the hoops in level at half time. The second half was different. K’s were much better at keeping the ball and sharper in the tackle; Cray started to hit it longer as a result, which allowed Murphy and in particular McNaughton to regain possession. But, bearing in mind this is non-league, perhaps more importantly the conditions were all of a sudden in K’s favour, with a gusting wind behind them, and a squally shower blowing into the faces of Cray’s defenders.

IMG_0025It was still a poor game though, despite the improvement’s in K’s performance after half time, and it looked like being a frustrating afternoon spent standing in deserted, dilapidated surroundings – until out of almost nothing, Wade Small broke clear and calmly slotted the ball under Cray’s keeper to put K’s into the lead. This not only galvanised the behind the goal fans – who began a rendition of Jingle Bells which wouldn’t end until after the final whistle – but it spurred K’s on to look for a killer second goal. The decisive strike duly came from a penalty when Cray keeper Andy Walker, who’d been barracked by K’s fans all afternoon, was adjudged to have tripped McCollin. McCollin stepped up to smash home the penalty, no doubt wanting to banish any mental demons lurking from his appalling spot kick against Dartford (think Stuart Pearce against Spain in Euro ’96 and you wouldn’t be far off). There was still time for Cray’s left back James Clark to unleash a goal of the season contender with sweet left peg half-volley which swerved into the bottom corner from fully 25 yards – and still time after that for Matt Pattison to finish a move he’d started and secure the win with a cool finish from Dean Lodge’s pass. So after 80 minutes of nothing, the final ten produced three K’s goals, a world-class Cray goal and a memorable sing-a-long for the Kingston faithful. Football, eh?

Alan Dowson’s sweeping changes have delivered three straight wins, and fired K’s back into the promotion picture after a season of early promise looked to be petering out due to diabolical defending. The last time the manager did this, after a similar run on K’s return to this level of football, such was the transformation in fortunes that it became known as ‘Dowson Day’. The changes this time around have been less dramatic, but there is no doubt K’s look a lot more solid – as Martin Tyler said after Sunday’s game, “the opposition don’t look like scoring every time they attack any more” – and a lot more likely to keep clean sheets. This gives Kingstonian the foundation of a proper team, but there are still unresolved issues, giving Dowse a few things to ponder:
1. Callum MaNaughton, who has done so much to stabilise the back four, is only on a short-term loan, so a proper centre-half is still needed;
2. Harry Harding hasn’t settled quite as quickly as he’d have liked; and most crucially
3. Despite the three wins on the bounce, this new K’s side are yet to produce a genuinely convincing performance.

My bet, and the bet of most of the fans I talked to on Sunday, is that such a performance is just around the corner. And this is not just blind optimism: in addition to the added steel in defence, the midfield four looks like a perfect balance of pace, power and passing ability, and if Wade Small can re-find his shooting boots, we have a potent pairing up front. Have we witnessed Dowson Day II? Let’s hope so…

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