The Wheels Have Fallen Off – But Why?

The wheels have yet again fallen off a Kingstonian promotion charge in February. What’s gone wrong this time?

1. Too Much Tinkering
Yes, there have been injuries, “illnesses”, suspensions, and the odd player leaving the club in a hurry. But we haven’t had a proper injury crisis, or a sudden exodus of our best players. In fact, the best players have been largely available all season: Tolfrey, Page, Drage, Casey, Moss, McCollin. If those six are fit, and have trained, then they should play in their correct positions. The rest of the team can fit around that depending on who is available, but in my opinion you’d also be looking to get Aaron Goode and Tommy Kavanagh in the starting eleven whenever possible. So why the endless tinkering when we’ve got such a good, reliable spine to the team? Why the never-ending chopping and changing of formation and personnel? Why, when it comes to it, doesn’t the management have confidence in the players that put us nearly top of the league? Because that lack of confidence has now been transmitted to the players, who don’t look like the same group of lads as a result.

2. Baffling Tactics
There’s a few examples that could be used of the muddy thinking currently dominating our management team, but here’s last night’s line-up as it was set out, with this fan’s opinion of their best position in brackets:

K's Crazy FormationYou don’t need me to tell you that it was madness. And you don’t even need me to tell you how bad we were in the first half – of course we were. What must the players have thought? It’s the sort of decision-making that leads to managers losing the dressing room…so let’s hope that hasn’t happened. Play players where they are meant to play, please!
We were almost top of the league playing a straightforward, old-fashioned 4-4-2, adapting into more of a 4-5-1 against the top sides, as for example we did so successfully at home to Dulwich. However, now that we’re in the second round of fixtures, teams are coming into games with a distinct gameplan, and as such Dowse has rightly worked on a Plan B. This Plan B is a 5-3-2 – which was proposed on this blog a few weeks ago, in case anyone accuses me of hypocrisy – and the system has had its successes, particularly against teams who play in a very direct way. But is was only ever meant to be a Plan B – in other words, a system to use when Plan A wasn’t working! Instead, we go into every game using a different system, and as a result the players have lost their rhythm.

3. We’re building the team around Sean Ray
The most non-sensical of all the things that have happened in 2014 is that we are now building a side around Sean Ray, an immobile wrecking-ball of a centre half. Yet, within the squad, fit and ready to play, we have a centre-half partnership which kept a record number of clean sheets early in the season, and who look as if they were born to play together as part of a back four. Matt Drage and Sam Page are superb, and they don’t deserve this madness. It’s as if Manchester United had built their side around David May in the 90s rather than Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister. I’ve nothing against Ray – he is, by all accounts, an excellent bloke and a force for good in the dressing room – but he is mediocre at best, and should be used as a substitute, to kick and head anything that comes his way in the last ten minutes when we’re defending a lead, rather than made into the lynchpin of the side.

4. Players
The players also need to take responsibility for a lack of desire in the past few weeks. You shouldn’t be letting Thamesmead back into a game by thinking it’s already won, by taking your foot off the pedal. You shouldn’t be failing to win half the 50/50s you go for, something that happens all too regularly for this fan’s liking. You shouldn’t be failing to track back because it looks like a bit of effort. You shouldn’t be sulking and moaning and sitting on the floor when things go against you; you should be trying to put things right. You shouldn’t be using a few moaners in the Main Stand as an excuse for poor home performances. And I don’t care what tactics the manager uses – you shouldn’t be fucking losing to a team who haven’t won in the league since November!

5. Bad Luck
Finally, there’s no doubt we’ve been unlucky during 2014. At key moments, events have gone against K’s, all arguably affecting the final result in the matches when they occurred:
– Met Police’s first goal, scored as a result of a refereeing aberration;
– Maidstone not having a man sent off when McCollin was hauled through clean on goal;
– And last but not least, Rob Tolfrey’s once-in-a-career howler just after half-time against ETU.

But you can’t put the slump down to luck. I’m losing faith. Yet this is a talented group of players. They deserve to be called talented because of what they’ve shown on the pitch, as individuals and as a team, rather than simply because of their reputations. As such, I hope this is a blip. I hope we recover and start playing the sort of football we should be – because at the moment, what’s on offer just isn’t good enough. Over the last eight days I’ve spent £30 on gate money and I honestly feel £30 out of pocket. It’s been that bad. Come on You K’s. You’re better than this.


When A Win Isn’t A Win – Wingate & Finchley (H)

1. First of all, a look at the positives from last night’s game:
– A win is a win;
– A clean sheet is a clean sheet;
– Ryan Moss was magnificent up front in every way: he was a constant goal threat but he also led the line with physicality and perseverance;
– Against eleven men, K’s were the better side.

2. Sadly, though, I left the ground last night feeling fairly depressed about where our football club is going this season. And I say our football club, not our football team, because it’s actually the off-field stuff which is beginning to bother me more. 201 people watched Kingstonian v W&F last night, the lowest league gate that I know of – and there were at least 20 Wingate fans in attendance, making it even worse. We need a radical new approach to attracting new supporters to Kingsmeadow, as the current strategy clearly isn’t working. There needs to be some big, strategic thinking at board level, and a proper targeted plan to improve gates over years, not months. Target an average of 400 next season, 450 the season after, 500 after that, and so on – and then review why we haven’t managed to hit those levels. I’m sure there are plenty of fans who would be willing to give up time – and perhaps even some money, given some of us have already offered to chip in for something similar – in order to try to save this football club. I really do mean “save this football club”, by the way – because what’s the point of a football club without supporters? I don’t want to support, and in fact wouldn’t support, a club like Harrow Borough, and if nothing is done, that’s where we’re headed. Having said all of that, my biggest worry is that it may not even be possible to attract a significant number of new fans to games when for £5 more you can watch League Two football in the same stadium. God’s speed to Merton, Dons.

3. The other problem is the general matchday experience at Kingsmeadow, which hardly encourages new supporters to attend, or those who go regularly to have a great time. There’s one major thing we can’t control – the fact that we now play in a three-sided ground – but the others we can have some influence over. I got into the ground at 7:44 last night, to be informed there weren’t any 50/50 tickets because “someone forgot to order the new books”. I’m sure that was an honest mistake by whichever volunteer does this, and I don’t mean to demean the great work they do, but it just adds to the feeling of the club becoming more and more tinpot. Again, as has been the case all season, there was no ale available at half time (it “ran out” after the first couple of half time pints were poured, despite there being four taps available in theory) and again, I was told, “it’s okay, I’ll get you a Guinness”. If the bar staff – and bar manager – don’t realise that wanting a pint of ale and being offered a pint of Guinness is the same as wanting a pint of lager and being offered a pint of cider, then I give up hope. Are the club hierarchy putting pressure on AFCW over this clown of a bar manager? He is directly costing us money. For instance, several W&F fans refused to buy anything last night as all they really wanted was a pint of ale. Worst of all, there seemed to be a toxic atmosphere in the Main Stand last night. The football didn’t help – it was fucking dreadful, no matter what Dowse says, and no, it certainly isn’t hard to play against nine men Alan! – but when there’s only 200 people in attendance, 25 negative voices can be heard very well by those on the pitch. The solution? Not to ban them, or have a word, but to get higher gates and drown them out! It’s as simple as that.

4. The limitations of the current squad were laid bare last night. Dowse clearly thought that 3-5-2 was the way to play against W&F, having presumably scouted them accordingly. To achieve that system, we had a winger up front (Charlie Knight, who did okay), an out-and-out full back at wing-back (Aaron Goode, who actually acquitted himself really well), and our best central midfielder at left wing-back (Josh Casey). If Dowse wants to play 3-5-2, we need at least two players in key positions, something the manager conceded in his post-match interview. But it needs to be remembered that the team which put K’s in a top 5 position by winning consistently earlier in the season played a classic 4-4-2. Let’s not tinker for tinkering’s sake.

5. Finally, it has to be said that Wingate & Finchley were absolutely outstanding in the second half with nine men. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more determined half from a team at this level. Hats off to the nine players on the pitch and the Wingate manager, who organised his team exceptionally well, shifting his lads around like chess pieces as we desperately tried new approaches. How a team can be so brilliantly disciplined one half, and so rash in the other, remains somewhat of a mystery, however…