Before the defeat to Maidstone, everything looked rosy. No goals conceded, plenty scored, and some great football played – and absolutely no doubts that this K’s side was the real deal.
A 2-0 defeat later, and questions were being asked in the pub post-mortem. Was Drage being dragged along by the excellence of Sam Page? Are we too open playing 4-4-2 against the better sides in the division? What does Dee Okojie bring to the table except enthusiasm? Has McCollin lost his confidence in front of goal? Why was Maidstone home to the entire UK population of wasps?
And so onto Grays, a top of the table clashed that looked as if it would be a tight affair, and very possibly a weather vane for the season after the Maidstone setback. After an initial period where Grays pushed forwards, bypassing Kavanagh and Sweeney, and had the upper hand, K’s gradually begun to dominate, with Okojie particularly impressive playing down the right flank. In the second half, K’s were simply magnificent: one and two touch passing; direct running; solid despite playing a high line. It was the best half of football played at Kingsmeadow for many a year, containing the best goal scored at Kingsmeadow for perhaps even longer.
So the questions were seemingly well and truly answered – well, four of them were; the wasps remain a mystery – with this comprehensive win. Drage was outstanding. Even with a fairly open 4-4-2, K’s had dominated midfield and forced Grays back deep into their own half. Okojie was superb playing on the right rather than the left, offering much needed pace and width to an otherwise narrow midfield. And McCollin’s four sensational goals rather suggested that he had ample self-belief – all four finishes were instinctive, quick-fire and deadly accurate.
But – and there always seems to be a but with K’s these days – along came Bognor on Monday night, and put most of those certainties in doubt again. Drage had a dire game, directly responsible for both Bognor goals and deservedly sent off for two very poor challenges. The team looked way too open, with Bognor being able to pass straight through our midfield as if it wasn’t there, worryingly reminiscent of last season. Okojie did little of note (although he was involved in K’s equaliser, to be fair) and offered no real threat. McCollin, however, looked the most likely to score once again, and so it proved. He isn’t a worry – apart from to opposition defences.
So, as it says in the title, where are we now? Are we still the real deal?
Well, if you’re the manager of the opposition, what do you do against the current line-up? I’d suggest the following, which is almost exactly what Bognor did on Monday:
1. Drop deep. Don’t give McCollin space to run in behind.
2. Attack down K’s left. Pattison will cut inside, giving the right-back space, and Moody is much better going forward than defending.
3. Get your best player – particularly if he’s quick – to focus on Drage. Page is too good.
4. Let Okojie have the ball. Close down the space in the middle of the park so Pattison and Sweeney don’t have space.
All well and good in theory, but very difficult to actually achieve. Moss and McCollin are superb; Drage is hardly a ‘weakness’, being part of a back four that kept a near club-record for clean sheets; Okojie has set up goals already this season after being given space (for instance, McCollin’s first v Grays). In short, Plan A still looks pretty good – and I hope Dowse sticks with it and doesn’t panic.
But if it’s not going well, as on Monday, what could Dowse use as a Plan B?
1. Sign an out-and-out winger, even if he sits on the bench initially. Introducing a genuine wide-man would force the opposition to change tactics, which could disrupt their game plan. Alternatively, using the current players, line-up with the more solid Aldred and left-back and push Moody on:
2. Play 4-5-1. It means one of the two excellent forwards would have to be withdrawn, but it’s been proven to work well already this season. It gives Sweeney and Pattison far more licence to roam, and makes them harder to man-mark.
In summary then, we’ve got two excellent options for mixing things up as well as a great starting XI. Dowse should be happy – and it’s no time to panic. It’s still looking rosy. Come on You K’s.