We Are Top of The League – Finchley (A) & Hampton (H)

Two games in three days, and so you lucky readers get a 2-for-1. Five thoughts on the bank holiday weekend’s action, starting with Saturday’s events at Finchley:

1. The game at Finchley isn’t being analysed first just because it was the first game of the weekend – it was also the key game of the weekend, for two reasons:
a) K’s marked themselves as genuine promotion contenders with this win. While it’s true to say that Finchley weren’t a well-organised side – their centre halves were all as dire as it gets at this level – this was a ferociously dominant performance from an away team. The final goals tally was four; it could, without any exaggeration (as Gary Abbott said in his post-match interview) have been eight. No matter the quality of the opposition, destroying a team on their own patch so comprehensively is something only a promotion contender has the firepower to achieve. And more than that, K’s showed that we have two formations, two modes of play, which are equally effective: we’ve won games handsomely playing 4-2-3-1, and on Saturday we won a game handsomely playing a proper 4-4-2. This gives Dowse a major tactical advantage over most managers in the division.
b) The conditions during the Finchley game directly affected the Hampton game on Monday. The only variety in the weather was the severity of the rain: most of the time it was pouring; sometimes it was truly pissing down; during half time it was bordering on biblical. Many other pitches would have become waterlogged and it’s to the immense credit of Wingate & Finchley Football Club that this never seemed a possibility, with the ball rolling properly across the surface throughout the match. Having said that, in such poor conditions, the pitch was undoubtedly heavy, and such a dynamic performance must have taken it out of the K’s players. I’d wager that most of them woke up very tired on Sunday, and this tiredness outed itself in the final half an hour on Monday – because while K’s were slogging it out in the rain, the Hampton players had their feet up due to their match being postponed.

This doesn't do the weather justice. Monsoon season in Finchley!

This doesn’t do the weather justice. Monsoon season in Finchley!

2. As a result, it’s my strong suspicion that the close nature of Monday’s game flattered Hampton. In the first half, K’s were on top without looking overly dangerous – although that was largely due to the performance of Hampton’s centre halves, who were immense throughout. But in the second half, especially after the hour mark, K’s noticeably tired. The midfielders looked leggy and began to chase a game they were previously controlling; the strikers made fewer of the runs into channels that were causing Hampton such problems; the full backs started to make the odd misjudgement against the Beavers wide players. Hampton grew in confidence and pushed higher up the pitch, and K’s resorted to playing on the counter. On another day, against a less brilliant rearguard (and more on that later), Hampton could well have won a point.

3. So, if any Hampton fans have happened upon this little corner of the internet, they probably think I’m being overly harsh on their side. It was a close, scrappy game – but it was a game K’s deserved to win simply for showing some ambition to attack and entertain a decent sized crowd. To this paying punter, Hampton were unimaginative, dull and unambitious. Starting with a genuine 4-5-1 (i.e. a formation as defensive as it sounds, rather than K’s 4-2-3-1 which is almost a 4-2-4 when attacking) against a tired side betrayed a lack of confidence, handed K’s the initiative. A complete failure to play any football during the ninety minutes, preferring instead to hit channels and try to work off second balls and set pieces, was not pretty to watch. And although they came close, the fact the Hampton couldn’t get the ball in the net against eleven knackered players – and have only scored twice so far this term – suggests real problems in the final third. If I were a Hampton fan, I wouldn’t be optimistic about the rest of the season on the evidence of Monday.

4. The club clean sheet record of 6 consecutive games secured on Monday is remarkable. There’s no doubt that at times, K’s have ridden their luck this season – notably against Canvey and Enfield – but the strong defensive showing is no accident. Rob Tolfrey is the best keeper in the division, and anyone who argues with that has not watched enough Ryman League football. Sam Page is a colossus. Matt Drage has been the find of the season, showing a good football brain and ability to read the game combined with a powerful physical presence. Aaron Goode has been much improved on last season, even if he remains his own worst critic. And whoever has played left-back has acquitted themselves admirably. But it’s not just the back four who deserve credit: plenty of goals were conceded last season because the opposition simply ghosted past a non-existent midfield. Not this year. Kavanagh, Somner and Sweeney have acted as an extra shield, and Pattison and Okojie have tracked back admirably. Huge pats on the back all round.

5. Finally, an insight into another football club’s way of doing things. Wingate & Finchley got battered on Saturday – so battered that some of us felt we should spend some money in the club bar after the game. Well, that and it was raining. Their Chairman still gave a rousing little speech – in the public bar – about “improving on Monday”, desperately searching for positives to relate to the players and finally settling on “you were almost matching them by the end”. He then presented a (cheap!) bottle of white wine to the keeper as Man of the Match, and there was a very awkward round of applause. It seemed ridiculous to me – but maybe I’m a curmudgeon and it’s good that they’re clearly such a nice club. I just can’t imagine Dowse tolerating a round of applause for his players after losing 4-0 at home!

Man of the Weekend – Ryan Moss. 4 goals in 2 games, and not even playing as a goal poacher. The last player this dominant up front for K’s was Tim Sills. Long may it continue and long may Moss not move to Aldershot.

Key Moment of the WeekendRob Tolfrey‘s save to deny Joel Ledgister in the second half against Hampton. A ridiculously good save, and a match-winning save to boot.

Away Fans:
Finchley – 1/10 (counted as away fans as they were outnumbered by travelling K’s). Very few of them, and the three old men standing on the side in the first half were an absolute disgrace. Foul mouthed and aggressive – and that was just towards the referee – and completely deluded in the bar afterwards. I’m sure other Finchley fans are nice, but I didn’t meet any.
Hampton – 5/10. Half-decent numbers, and the bulk are clearly nice people, but they haven’t learned to sing yet, and perhaps never will.

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It’s A New Dawn, It’s A New Day, It’s A New Life For Me, And I’m Feeling Goode – Enfield Town (H)

1. Football loses my attention in Summer, almost completely. It doesn’t help that I have no interest whatsoever in whether Wayne Rooney moves from Manchester United to Chelsea, or whether Newcastle United can sign a decent centre-forward, but mainly it loses my attention because of cricket. While the cricket season’s in full swing, I couldn’t care less about football – and so it was with great relief for me personally that the Ashes were won a matter of minutes before kick-off, and the cricket season effectively (bar the matter of whether the Ashes finishes 3 or 4-0) put to bed. Suddenly, I was enthusiastic about football again – about appealing for a penalty instead of an LBW, about chanting on the terraces, about the ball hitting the back of the net, and more than anything about being back at Kingsmeadow. They can paint it blue all they like, but it’ll always feel like home to those of us with no memories of Richmond Road, and it was good to be back.

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2. Given this was my first football game of any kind since April there were a number of players lining up in the hoops who were new to me. It’s only natural to form first impressions, so here they are:

a) Matt Drage had a good game at centre half – tall, brave and with a good sense of positioning – and perhaps more importantly he looks a particularly natural partner to Sam Page. Every time I’ve seen Page in the past – for Horsham or Sutton – he has been class, and it ranks as a real coup that he’s playing for K’s this year. After keeping a battling clean sheet with ten men at Canvey, another clean sheet against Enfield bodes well for a better goals against column this season, although in both games K’s have been thankful to Rob Tolfrey at vital moments. He made one extraordinary save at the Athletics End last night, but mainly Enfield’s chances came from set pieces or down the flanks – and critically, not once did Enfield create a chance due to a defensive error. Too many goals were conceded unnecessarily last season, and too many games dominated by K’s were drawn – or even lost – due entirely to individual mistakes from the back four. If Drage and Page can stem the flow of cheap goals, then that’s already an improvement, and if they can also be as dominant as they were against Enfield, then we won’t concede many at all.

b) Marcus Moody looks terrific going forward from left back, and will be an important player given the lack of natural wide players – and particularly the lack of a left-winger – in the squad. His perfectly weighted through ball for Ryan Moss’ goal was a delight, and could easily have graced a higher level. Moody did have a few worrying defensive moments, however, and will need to be covered on his frequent forays into opposition territory.

c) In midfield it was a mixed bag. Tom Kavanagh broke up play well, was disciplined in covering for marauding full backs, and occasionally popped up unannounced in the opposition penalty area. More of the same, please. But Dee Okojie didn’t exactly impress: decent close control, but peripheral in the game as a whole and no sign of an end product (cross, shot or pass) when he did get the ball. Hopefully it was just an off day for him against good opposition.

d) Ryan Moss looks like a real find. Hard-working, bullish, strong but quick enough, and with an eye for a poacher’s goal. In addition, he scored an absolute beauty last night, bending the ball right-footed into the top corner of the net when through on goal. (If you weren’t there, imagine the way Michael Owen used to finish one-on-ones in his prime.) Crucially, he has all the attributes needed to play up front on his own – and I can’t remember the last time I could say that about a K’s centre forward. McCollin showed glimpses of being able to do this at points last year – often after one of our dozen or so red cards – but Moss really did deliver against Enfield playing on his own up front.

Moss celebrates his second goal in front of the Grolsch Stand

Moss celebrates his second goal in front of the Grolsch Stand

3. And it was this all-round ability of Moss that gave Alan Dowson the chance to make possibly the game’s critical decision – switching to 4-5-1 after only 13 minutes when Andre McCollin went off injured. Up until the change, Enfield had largely dominated the centre of midfield, with K’s threat limited to the flanks. After the switch, K’s gained a foothold in the centre circle which they never really relinquished, freeing up space ‘between the lines’ in which Matt Pattison in particular was able to flourish. In effect, K’s were playing 4-2-3-1, with Kavanagh and Somner playing as the defensive shield in front of the back four. It looks like a system that is really suited to the squad Dowse has assembled this season. Knowing they have the insurance of two good holding players to cover them, both full backs can take every opportunity to bomb forward – and that;s something that neither Aaron Goode, nor by the looks of it Marcus Moody, is afraid to do. And knowing that Moody and Goode will be providing width in almost every attack, Matt Pattison and Dee Okojie (or whoever plays number 11) can cut inside and support the centre forward. At times, Enfield had no answer to Pattison and Goode’s combination play down the right flank, and if that can be replicated on the other wing, then we’ll be an even harder side to play against.

4. Enfield seemed a decent side. Like so many non-league sides these days, they’d clearly been told by the manager to “play it out from the back, lads”, and this was working well when they largely had control of central midfield. But when K’s started to dominate from about the 20 minute mark, all they were succeeding in doing was playing themselves into trouble, and as such the more pragmatic older players decided to take a more direct approach. And unfortunately for them, that didn’t succeed at all, simply providing heading practice for Page and Drage. At half time, their manager clearly told them to be more positive in search of an equaliser, and they battled well in the second half, trying to use width to force a chance – and they made two clear chances with the game still in the balance at 1-0. One was cleared off the line; one was saved brilliantly by Tolfrey. Fine margins.

5. Two games in, it’s difficult to say with any certainty at all what the season holds for K’s. Two clean sheets – but in both games, Tolfrey has had to make very good saves for that to be the case. Four goals, but one an own goal, one a penalty, and one a 93rd minute last kick of the game free kick. Two wins – but who knows where Enfield or Canvey will finish the season? Bobby’s back – but he’s on loan with Casuals. Bring on East Thurrock. A third win and even I’ll start dreaming of glory in May‚Ķ

Man of the Match: a tough one this. Pattison was outstanding in almost everything he did; Moss was magnificent; Page and Drage faultless. But Aaron Goode was back to his best – good positioning, a couple of crucial and well-timed tackles, energetic runs forward down the right flank, and even a Ricky Villa impression which nearly led to a memorable goal.

Key Moment: Ryan Moss‘ superb goal to make it 2-0. K’s were under a bit of real pressure for the first time in the game, and an equaliser looked possible, but then Moody strode forward and picked the perfect slide-rule through ball for Moss to run onto and bend the ball into the top corner. Top class.

Away Fans: 6/10. Very respectable numbers for a Monday night – perhaps 60-70 if there were a few in the main stand – and a decent attempt at making some noise, especially at 0-0. But get some new songs, will you lads? You can’t call yourselves ‘Ultras’ if you don’t actually have any songs of your own!