There’s already a pretty comprehensive review of Saturday’s game available here, by Jamie Cutteridge, and I don’t disagree with anything he’s written. But, because I’m bored on a cold Monday morning, here’s a few more in-depth thoughts:
1. This wasn’t a game of two halves; this was a game of four centre halves. For Hornchurch, the experienced Dave Rainford didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon, always seemingly a crucial second ahead of play, while Rickie Hayles was simply immense. Hayles was involved in an epic (and bruising) physical tussle with Ryan Moss for 90 minutes, and became the first defender this season to win the battle, stopping Moss from holding up the ball consistently and crucially, from getting on the end of any balls into the box. For K’s, both Sam Page and Matt Drage continued their imperious form. To be honest, Page is simply too good for this level – but in Drage he has a defensive partner who perfectly complements his qualities. As a pair, they were once again magnificent.
2. Given the defensive qualities of both teams through the middle, it was always going to take a moment of genuine quality to break the deadlock. During the course of the match, there was one such moment from both sides. First, George Purcell teed himself up for a volleyed lob from the edge of the area, and was very unlucky to see his highly technically impressive effort hit the bar. Then, in the second half, Andre McCollin managed to wriggle away from Dave Rainford for just about the only time in the game courtesy of a terrific turn, and in the freedom he suddenly enjoyed struck a fierce left-footed drive from 25 yards, which Urchins keeper Inigo Ecehpare was only too glad to palm away. Other than that, there were chances from set pieces for both sides, but this was a 0-0 borne out of quality, not a lack of it.
Make no mistake: this was an excellent point. Hornchurch are set up to be mean and solid, and won’t lose many games this season, especially at home. In their captain Frankie Curley, they have the sort of midfield colossus that K’s have been seeking for years, a giant of a man who snaps into challenges, wins goal kicks in the air, and makes sure nobody can bypass the midfield. A nasty bastard, yes, but an excellent nasty bastard.
3. Having said all of that, perhaps both teams’ back fours wouldn’t have found it quite so easy had the pitch not resembled a First World War battlefield. It wasn’t just uneven – at one point Aaron Goode suffered a bobble so large the ball hit him above the knee – but also had such long grass that proper passing football was nigh-on impossible. As a result, K’s were extremely tactically astute, dropping off from the first tackle or the first header, and clustering nearby to make sure they won the second ball – because that was what counted. Following this strategy, K’s generally dominated territory even if they didn’t dominate possession.
4. Again, another pat on the back for Dowse – the K’s player who saw most of the ball in dangerous areas was Charlie Knight. This is surely exactly what Dowse set out to achieve, as he’s the K’s player most likely to produce a moment of magic with the ball at his feet. Sadly, it wasn’t to be Charlie’s day: he simply didn’t put enough good crosses into the area, and even when he did manage to get a decent ball into the box, Hayles or Rainford got a head to it before McCollin or Moss.
5. So a fairly drab 0-0 in grey conditions in an athletics stadium in Essex. But a bad day out? Not a bit of it. The K’s travelling support were in fine form, ‘coaching’ the rather unfortunate Hornchurch schoolboy left-back throughout the 90 minutes after his initial lippiness, and winding up the Urchins captain successfully on a number of occasions. It was good fun, how non-league should be. And most importantly, us travelling K’s fans were delighted with the effort, attitude and commitment shown by every player in a Kingstonian shirt. Last season, we’d have lost this game. The season before last, we’d have lost this game. The Margate debacle season, we’d definitely have lost this game. This was an important test, and K’s passed it.