1. What a relief to arrive at a K’s game and find out two excellent things: firstly, that Alan Dowson would not be leaving at the end of this season after all, having signed a new contract; secondly, that Dowse had benefitted from a moment of clarity and picked the strongest available eleven players to represent Kingstonian. The team picked had perfect balance – between attack and defence, between pace and precision, between left and right-footers. In particular, the combined threat of the Moody and Knight (who sound like an ITV detective duo) down the left flank gives genuine width. Having been dropped for Tom Jelley at right-back, Aaron Goode may well have felt harshly treated, but Jelley stayed wide and therefore combined well with Matt Pattison, who loves to drift inside. When in full flight, it looked a bit like this, with Page and Drage unafraid to push up and allow both full backs to bomb on:
2. As such, K’s fans were expecting goals against a desperately weak Thamesmead side, who’ve been leakier than a seaborne sieve so far this season. Initially, it looked very much a question of “how many goals?” rather than “how many points?” as K’s tore into Thamesmead from the off. A good Tommy Kavanagh strike from the edge of the box was followed – after a lengthy injury stoppage in which the players kept themselves warm as best they could on the first cold day of the season – by sustained K’s pressure. Charlie Knight was tracked manfully by the Thamesmead right back, but still whipped in a succession of crosses from the left; Tom Jelley was finding space on the other flank and also peppering the box; Moss and McCollin continued to combine well and fashion chances. In short, this was a good, coherent team performance, allowing K’s to dominate proceedings in terms of possession, territory and chances. Pattison hit the bar, Moss hit the post, and Thamesmead cleared two off the line – but the second goal just wouldn’t come, and the half-time whistle blew with K’s only one goal to the good.
3. Unsurprisingly, like a boxer who takes punch after punch but somehow staggers back to his corner at the end of the round, Thamesmead were determined to start the second half on the front foot. They’d absorbed the punches, wobbled but stayed standing, and realised in the sanctuary of the interval that attack was the best form of defence. As such K’s suffered an awkward second half, and lapsed into the familiar failing of playing as a group of talented individuals rather than a team. Suddenly, the performance was disjointed – Charlie Knight isolated on the left; Pattison anonymous in the hurly-burly; the central midfield bypassed; McCollin having to drop too deep to be a threat. The luxury of being Alan Dowson at the moment is that the club can put so much quality on the pitch at any one time that we can still outscore the opposition even when not playing well – and that’s exactly what transpired. A bit of class down the right from Okojie created the space for a dangerous cross, which although too long found Knight alone beyond the far post. He then delivered a curling, dipping ball to the near post, which Ryan Moss met with a firm header. A very good goal, made by a couple of bits of individual quality. The third and fourth goals owed even less to teamwork, but in many ways that made them all the more remarkable. First, that man Knight slalomed through a tiring Thamesmead and slammed it home; then (after a Thamesmead reply) Marcus Moody capped his effervescent performance with a confident run and finish on the counter attack.
4. So there’s plenty to be positive about based on the first half teamwork and the second half goals, but the overall second half performance left a lot to be desired. If this sounds harsh to those of you not present at Kingsmeadow – and with a crowd of 249, I hope that’s a lot of absent K’s fans, otherwise our supporter base really has disappeared – then let me explain. Thamesmead were dreadful. We’ll need to be better than this to win at Folkestone next week, let alone at Lowestoft.
5. But this new-found balance to the squad Dowse has assembled leaves this fan feeling more optimistic than he has for several years. Unlike last season, the league is strong with the additions of Maidstone, Hornchurch and Dulwich, and as such even reaching the play-offs would be a good achievement. But consider the last team with genuine all-round balance to play for K’s: a target man, a quick goalscorer, pace down the left flank backed up by a left-footed full back, power and technique in midfield, a natural centre-half partnership. Yes, it’s this lot, and they didn’t do too badly…