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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