We Love You Kingston, We Do – AFC Sudbury (H)

1. Rejoice! At last, a properly convincing performance from Kingstonian in the 2016/17 season! But what a shame – and a waste – that it’s taken until a full quarter of the way through the season, including a disastrous and ugly FA Cup defeat, to get to this point. It’s an even bigger shame that the issues we’ve had in putting a coherent team together have been so obvious, and therefore so avoidable. Sometimes it’s a mystery to paying punters why an eleven put on the field just doesn’t fit together as a unit, and ends up performing as less than the sum of its individual parts. There have been several K’s elevens during this spell in Ryman League mid-table purgatory that, on paper, seemed like they should be really good football teams, but have never convinced on the pitch. So I’m not saying this management lark is easy. But what is easy is looking at a squad in pre-season that contains only Joe Turner as a proven midfielder at this level, having lost Odamatey, O’Leary, Smith and Bennett, and thinking: “I reckon we’re going to have a problem in midfield”. What is also easy is realising within about 45 minutes that the most convincing thing about Dan Gallagher’s ability as a footballer is his haircut. What is even easier to understand is that if Ola Sogbamnu is a Ryman Premier league holding midfielder, then Rajesh Khosla is a trustworthy and valuable member of society. Yet somehow it’s taken until October to put together a first eleven that looks like a proper football team – and I’m afraid to say that’s incompetent management. Tommy Williams may very well turn it around with the squad we’ve now assembled and K’s may very well go on to have a good season. Obviously, I really hope so. But you don’t wildly praise a salesman for good Q2, Q3 and Q4 performance if he missed his targets so badly in Q1, through factors entirely within his control rather than bad luck, that he misses them for the whole year. Therefore, I think what our management team need to do is be a bit more humble: recognise that criticism they’ve received so far this season isn’t personal; it’s entirely objectively justified. Perhaps it might be time to think about what went wrong over pre-season and in August and September, and try to learn from those mistakes, rather than hitting out at people pointing those mistakes out?

2. But as much as they deserve to be under pressure for throwing away FA Cup revenue and giving the rest of the league a dozen game head start, Tommy Williams and his team do deserve credit for finally getting it right – because they’ve managed to do so in an unorthodox way. Firstly, placing faith in Sean Bonnett-Johnson as a central midfielder has been a masterstroke – and one that shows Williams must be a fundamentally good coach. I can’t think of a single supporter who’d have picked SBJ as a really good central midfield box-to-box dynamo based on his previous performances in red-and-white hoops, yet that’s exactly what he’s proving to be. Secondly, Aaron ‘Norman’ Lamont looks for all the world like a winger: he’s short, a bit stocky, and quick with the ball at his feet. But again, the management team have seen hidden potential in a player that isn’t immediately obvious, and Lamont’s best performances in a K’s shirt have come at number 8 or number 10 rather than on the right wing. Thirdly, the signing of Michael Onovwigun looks inspired. To this observer, he seems a cut above anything on the pitch whenever he is playing – which will hopefully be more often from now on.

3. On that note, it was the introduction of Onovwigun off the bench that changed Saturday’s game, because until he came onto the pitch, the result was in the balance. This wasn’t always looking like a straightforward and comprehensive 3-0 win. In the first half, despite K’s having far more of the ball, Sudbury were the team who created the chances, and Rob Tolfrey had to make one particularly fine stop to keep it goalless at the interval. Following half-time, K’s were as improved as my mood after having a fantastic pint of ale in the bar, something that is generally about as likely as meeting a Duwlich Hamlet ‘fan’ in South London who isn’t the kind of smug wanker that makes even socialists like me think twice about voting Labour. We scored a good goal when Pico impressively curled in a shot after a positive Lamont run through the middle, and we looked for a few minutes like adding a second and going on and dominating the game. But that isn’t what happened, because K’s back four and midfield got deeper and deeper, whether through lack of confidence or (what would be more worrying) tactical instruction, and left both of our excellent centre forwards increasingly isolated and unable to influence the game. As such, Sudbury pressed on and the next goal seemed likely to be an equaliser – albeit that the back four looked as solid as it has done all season and limited the Suffolk lads to half chances and a couple of scrambles from set pieces. Cue the eventual introduction of Onovwigun, a couple of crunching tackles won in midfield, a remarkably good early cross from Youssef Bamba and a towering header from Alan Inns, who had to beat not only the Sudbury defender but also Ryan Moss in the air to score.

4. That meant it was game over. For the rest of the match, K’s were really impressive: in total control, passing the ball well, and looking dangerous whenever we had the ball. One of the main reasons we looked so dangerous was the ten minute masterclass in tormenting a full back given by Bamba between the second goal and his substituation. Bamba looks like a real asset: he is a decent dribbler, and quick, but there’s plenty of Ryman League wingers who can offer that. The reason Bamba has the potential to be such a good player is that he has the rarest of non-league abilities: he can put in an early cross with enough dip and swerve for it to be attacked. In his brief time with K’s, he has already delivered two of these exceptional crosses, both attacking the KRE, and both resulting in K’s goals. As such, full backs think, “I’ve got to get tight to this bloke and stop the cross”…and then he can knock it past them and run down the line. The lad is an exciting prospect.

5. And actually, this K’s squad that’s now been put together is an exciting prospect, because there aren’t any weaknesses. The back five is obviously excellent, and Bruce Hogg is a very good deputy – although the players need to start proving this label by continuing what they started on Saturday and conceding fewer avoidable goals. Onovwigun and SBJ could be a terrific midfield partnership. Turner, Bamba and Lamont are strong, positive, attacking wide players – and Lamont has proven he can play in central midfield, giving Tommy another tactical option. Up front we are strong. Pico and Moss were superb on Saturday, and are developing a good understanding, and Tom Derry will be an asset once he’s got fit.

So, onwards and upwards…at last.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 8; Goode 6, Inns 7, Hogg 7, Wells 6; Bamba 8, SBJ 7, Lamont 7, Turner 8; *Pico 8*, Moss 8