1. Football, eh? Bloody hell. Nothing else – well, certainly nothing that counts as a hobby, at any rate (!) – offers such fantastic emotional highs and lows as football. At 4:50pm on Saturday afternoon, K’s season was as good as over. As Martin Tyler noted in his post-match interview, the dropped points alone wouldn’t have proved fatal for K’s promotion hopes, but the drop in morale that would have resulted from a draw against – quite literally – a team of kids would have been the nail in the missing-the-playoffs coffin. The feeling in the ground when Bury’s equaliser hit the net was unlike anything since Margate’s third goal in K’s last play-off debacle three years ago: despair at a winning position being thrown away mixed with outright dejection at what the late goal meant. As the person next to me said, surely summing up the feelings of all 250 in the ground, “well that’s another year in this f*cking division then. I can’t wait.” And then, only five minutes later, those same 250 people erupted in celebration in a way they surely haven’t since Bobby Traynor’s last minute winner against the old enemy almost four years ago. I had the pleasure of being stood behind the home bench, and Tyler, Abbott and Dowse’s celebrations will live long in the memory. They knew what the goal meant, we knew what the goal meant, and this honest bunch of players knew what the goal meant.
2. It meant, if it needs spelling out, that this season isn’t over, and in fact that K’s are in with a real fighting chance of getting into the top 5. The home game against Lowestoft in two weeks already looks huge – Lowestoft are vulnerable on the road, and a K’s win in that game could knock them out of the race – but in order for that game to be as important as it could be, K’s need to pick up points in the three games before it. I certainly don’t subscribe to the view that the next three matches are all ‘must win’, because our rivals will drop points – just look at the form table if you doubt that – but we need a minimum of 6 points to catch the teams above. We’re in no position to say things like “4 wins from 7” yet – it’s these next three games that everybody should be focussing on.
3. Back to Saturday. The reason this really was a proper Must Win Game was the nature of the opposition. For those not at the game, or not aware of the clearout of senior players at Bury Town over the last couple of months: K’s were playing a youth team (with the exception of the ever-present grumpy bulk of Marcus Garnham in goal…part of me thinks he’ll still be in goal for Bury in 2024). Some of these lads clearly aspired to a career in football, and the older ones (perhaps 19/20 at a push) seemed to have been in the gym and could just about cope with playing against men, but at least half the team – and certainly the substitutes, some of whom seemed not to have started the process of shaving, let alone filling out – looked like children. In addition, there was the not insignificant fact that the same group of lads had played an away game on Thursday night. If we couldn’t beat this lot, we wouldn’t beat anyone, went the logic – and in the first ten minutes, it looked like being exactly the sort of routine home win that everybody expected. K’s were rampant, all over Bury, swarming around their penalty box, but somehow unable to score – and as the half went on, Bury grew into the game, and started to hold their own. Half time was spent fretting.
4. When the second half kicked off, it looked like we needn’t have worried. Dowse had clearly told the lads to up the intensity, to get in the faces of the Bury boys, and to make it an altogether more physical encounter – an encounter the kids had no chance of winning. K’s piled on the pressure, but still, somehow, the ball wouldn’t go in the net. Was it going to be one of those days? No, as it turned out, as Charlie Knight finally managed to slam the ball home following a scramble in the box, to much relief around the ground. Surely now Bury’s defences would collapse, and the young lads in blue would give up hope, tired from two games in three days? Not a bit of it. K’s play started to get sloppy, we lost our shape, and Bury edged their way back into the game…and then came the sucker punch. If it hadn’t been such a big game for K’s, I’d almost have applauded the audacity and belief of the Bury team, who were a credit to their club. A fair few non-league mercenaries could learn a lot from their attitude.
5. But football is a cruel game, and K’s win meant that we’ve managed to win 5 points in the 3 games Andre McCollin has been suspended. Against Bognor and Lewes, it’s easy to argue that in fact McCollin wasn’t missed all that much: Ryan Moss was fantastic up front on his own, and scored a great goal at Lewes for good measure. But against Bury, we missed Andre’s pace and directness enormously. He would have had a field day against this team of kids, who would surely have never played against a striker possessing such a powerful physique allied with real aggression and intent. But personally, I wouldn’t advocate a return to 4-4-2 just because Andre is available. The midfield trio of Laidler, Pappoe and Sweeney looks well balanced, and with Josh Casey’s best position being centre midfield, Dowse is blessed with an embarrassment of riches in the middle of the park. Against decent sides, he should play all of them – as he is doing – and allow K’s to dominate the game. If we are dominating but not threatening, then yes, switch to 4-4-2 – or bring Andre on in a free role to get into space wherever he feels he can do the most damage. The squad is strong, and looks together. I think we’ll give it a good go.