From The Sublime To The Ridiculous – Harlow (H) & Worthing (A)

After two games, two wins and eight K’s goals in four days, it seems like a good time to sit down and write five thoughts…

1. If there wasn’t genuine evidence that it happened – a report, the score on football web pages, photos of the goals – I’m still not sure I’d believe that Saturday’s 6-0 win over Harlow wasn’t really a dream. Before Saturday, K’s had been thrashed twice, and our wins had been either rearguard efforts (Billericay and Merstham) or scrappy and slightly fortunate. More to the point, in previous match a first-choice K’s eleven were outpassed and at times outclassed by pub league Walton Casuals in the Alan Turvey Trophy. As such this probably goes down as the most surprising thrashing dished out by Kingstonian in recent memory, and that made it all the more enjoyable. This wasn’t a fortunate result; in fact, without some smart saves by Harlow’s keeper, it could have been even more. The (small) crowd were stunned.

2. So where on earth did this sublime performance come from? Well, the lineup *looked* balanced, and didn’t obviously have any weak links, for possibly the first time this season, and that undoubtedly helped. K’s lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with all eleven players in their preferred positions – or at the very least positions they are comfortable playing – and that certainly helped too. Tom Little’s left-footed overlapping runs down the left flank created the space for Kane Haysman to drift inside and find space, overwhelming and confusing Harlow’s centre halves. Meanwhile Alex Fiddes stuck to his task with great discipline – which was to stay wide on the right throughout, stretching the game wide and creating space for box-to-box runs from Lewis Taylor. Taylor – probably K’s most talented player at this level, if we’re honest – produced his first truly dominant performance since Billericay away, simultaneously offering defensive cover to Gogonas and the back four while also getting into dangerous attacking positions throughout. But the real difference was a mercurial performance at number 10 from Tom Collins, who had shown flashes of class before this point in his K’s career without ever delivering concrete results. Collins relentlessly found himself with the ball in space between Harlow’s back four and midfield, and he used that freedom superbly. Harlow had no answer to his creative passing and skilful dribbling, and he made the key move in three of the first four goals. Collins was only marginally less influential in the second half when he was being man-marked in an effort to reduce his influence. We can’t expect him to do this every week, and we probably shouldn’t even expect him to play this well more often than not – but when Tom Collins plays like this, I don’t think we’ll lose many this season.

3. From the sublime, then, to the ridiculous: the first half refereeing display at Worthing, which contained the single worst decision I’ve ever seen at a football game – and I was at Vicarage Road for the ‘ghost goal’. It was immediately obvious that the ref was going to be a factor in the evening. He clearly enjoyed the moments when the attention of the 151 hardy souls assembled was focussed on him and him alone, taking unnecessary extra time over every decision, and making overly dramatic hand gestures, a non-league Mike Dean in almost every way. He didn’t start the evening well, actively deciding to bottle a decision when Tom Derry was tripped when clean through, followed that up by missing two clear fouls on K’s players, and then gave us a free kick for such a weak challenge that the K’s players didn’t even appeal. The pressure started to build when he blew up for a K’s free kick when we had an almost comically clear advantage – Fiddes had actually skipped away after the ‘foul’ challenge, and was about to dribble into the box in a 3 vs 2 situation – because the K’s players told the ref in no uncertain terms how ludicrous this decision was. Sam Page was booked for his forthright contribution, and the ref had already started to punctuate his display by looking nervously at the dozen or so travelling fans behind the goal, who were being no less honest in their assessment. Presumably distracted, his big moment then arrived, when he passed from merely being an averagely poor Isthmian League official to proud holder of my award for Worst Refereeing Decision Ever. K’s attacked, the ball ricocheted off, and a Worthing player cleared the ball under no real pressure about 4-5 yards from the byline. The referee’s reaction to this was to very firmly give Kingstonian a corner, and then express genuine shock as the entire Worthing team, bench and supporters went apoplectic. Those in red and white hoops openly laughed. The strangest part of this story? The ref followed up this total embarrassment by having a largely competent second half!

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4. The match itself against Worthing – although at Bognor Regis, of course, as evidenced above! – was far less remarkable, even if it did provide K’s with another three points. In the first half K’s were the definition of lacklustre, passing the ball slowly and with little intent, and far too reactive at the back. This approach allowed Worthing to grow in confidence and while they didn’t really deserve their half-time lead, it was hard to argue with the scoreline. But just as it seemed K’s inconsistency was becoming consistent, the players produced a much-improved second half performance to turn the game around. We were on the front foot, playing the game in the Worthing half, and at least putting the home side – without a win this season, remember – under some much-needed pressure. However, chances were at a premium until Saturday’s hero Collins, who had struggled to find any space in which to operate, was replaced by on-loan Gillingham forward Noel Mbo. Mbo was immediately a direct presence alongside Tom Derry up front, and in this more traditional 4-4-2 K’s looked more dangerous – as is often the case against poor sides. Derry (or was it actually Mbo with the final touch?) poked home the equaliser, and as the loyal travelling faithful* found their voices to try to inspire K’s to a winner, Mbo scored a delicious winner on debut, cutting inside on his left foot and calmly curling the ball into the far bottom corner. It was a difficult, clinical, dare I say professional finish, the kind you seldom see in the semi-pro Isthmian League. Mbo looks like a great option, and his class was the difference between a poor side and a below-par side on Tuesday.

5. What might all of this mean for the season? Without wishing to get splinters up my arse, it is really hard to say. My gut feeling is that the overall quality of the league is weak this season, and that’s why many teams, and not just K’s, are struggling to hit reliable form. I don’t think that the league has already taken shape – it’s likely that one or two of the teams who’ve had a poor start will sign a couple of players and end up in the playoffs, and if Worthing get back home sooner rather than later, they are capable of putting together a run to escape relegation. (At least, I certainly hope so, because they’re an excellent club and we missed the away day this year!) With only one relegation place this year, and with Billericay odds on to win the title due to their ludicrous spending, this really isn’t the season for clubs to dip into their reserves to boost their budgets. Canny chairmen will be keeping their chequebooks dry this term, and spending any saved money next year, when there are the normal number of relegation slots to avoid, and the outside chance of winning the title. Basically, I don’t think these crazy rollercoaster results are going to stop any time soon – so let’s have a laugh, throw our arms in the air, and enjoy the ride!

*who really do deserve a pat on the back, given it wasn’t possible to get back to London by train afterwards…


Player Ratings:

v Harlow: Tolfrey 9; Rodgers 7, Vilcu 7, Page 7.5, Little 7.5; Gogonas 8, Taylor 9; Fiddes 9, Haysman 9, *Collins 9*; Derry 8

v Worthing: Tolfrey 7; Rodgers 7, Vilcu 7, Page 7, Goode 7; Gogonas 6, Taylor 7; Fiddes 7, Collins 6, Haysman 6; Derry 7

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“4-1 To Director’s Loans” – Hendon (A)

1. I’ve been away on holiday for two weeks (three weekends, in footballing terms) and have thus happily managed to miss K’s season falling apart via three consecutive home defeats. So bleak were these losses that, having asked the assembled K’s in the Midland Hotel bar before the game about them, most people struggled to remember which game was which, although the consensus was that “the third one…was that Worthing?…was definitely the worst”. Tommy Williams had grabbed onto Sunday’s eventual Trophy victory against Lewes as a possible turning point, but as I read Lewes chairman Stuart Fuller’s excellent blog on the (delayed – thanks again Thameslink, you Tory-privatised, profit-driven, incompetent shower of shit) train to Hendon, I wasn’t sure I agreed with the K’s manager. Apparently Lewes – in the league below, don’t forget – were suffering major injury problems, including missing their entire first choice midfield, and yet we still laboured to a fortunate victory, and even then we only scored both our goals due to the tenacity and sheer goalscoring desire of Ryan Moss. Given all that, confidence in Kingstonian recording a victory was low.

2. But that’s not to say that morale in the Midland Hotel bar was low. At least a dozen behind-the-goal K’s had already assembled in the pub by 6pm, most having taken full advantage of the dire Thameslink service by filling the delay with a tin or two on the train, and so alcohol-induced exuberance had set in by the time we all set off for Hendon’s new ground.

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A severly delayed train is an away day opportunity, not a curse

Arriving from the north, it must be the strangest approach to a Ryman League ground: you walk downhill from a gigantic, floodlit Hindu temple through a completely dark park towards the floodlights of what you assume is the ground, then have to walk all the way around the perimeter hedge to get to the turnstiles, which are in the furthest corner from civilisation. Once inside, it’s clear that Hendon have done a superb job given their limited resources. There is an old covered stand down one side, which also houses the cosy bar, the relic of the previous set-up on the site; two small covered terraces on the opposite side for those who prefer a view from the touchline; and covered stands at both ends, one seated and one a tiny, shiny terrace. The view from the seated end, back up the hill to the temple, is particularly impressive. The only negative is the 3G pitch, which is both sloped and clearly suffers from the occasional irregular bounce, meaning that defenders quickly learn to resort to the old-fashioned Row Z approach rather than playing it out from the back. Given the progressive way Hendon teams tend to play, even sticking to their possession-based principles on the replica of the Somme that was Harrow’s pitch last season, this may be affecting them at home more than their opponents.

img_09373. K’s looked good from the off, finding space down both flanks in what looked like a deliberate tactic to stretch the pitch by keeping both wide men as far forward as possible. As such, K’s shape was more of a wide 4-3-3 than the 4-2-3-1 that it seemed from the line-up. Driven forward by a clearly pumped-up Lee O’Leary, playing against his former club, K’s began to fashion chances. Twice Joe Turner somehow failed to score at the back post from superb Youssef Bamba crosses from the right, bundling the ball wide and then hitting the bar with a header from two yards out. But it was third time lucky for the indefatigable Turner, who headed home yet another terrific cross from Bamba to put K’s ahead. At this point, Hendon fell to pieces, and K’s swarmed forward in search of further goals against a side even more bereft of confidence than those in red-and-white hoops. But the second goal didn’t arrive from a team move; instead, it came from a moment of individual class that would (honestly) have graced the Champions League games being played simultaneously. Norman ‘Aaron’ Lamont picked the ball up about 35 yards out, took a good touch, looked up, saw the keeper a little too far off his line, and then having taken the audacious decision to shoot from such a distance, had the skill to execute a perfect lob with the pace and dip of an Andy Murray drop shot to leave the Hendon keeper flailing and the K’s fans delirious. This goal deserves to be right up there in the pantheon of great recent K’s goals, somewhere close to Bobby Trainer at Sutton or Andre McCollin at home to Grays. Take a bow, Mr Lamont. Even after this, K’s didn’t let up, and added a deserved third via an O’Leary header from a pinpoint Joe Turner set play. 3-0 at half time, and game over. K’s did a good job of shutting the game down in the second half, added a fourth courtesy of the outstanding Bamba, and thoroughly deserved the 4-1 victory.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 7, Inns 7, Hogg 7, Wells 7; *Bamba 9*, O’Leary 8, SBJ 7, Turner 8; Lamont 8; Moss 7

4. But my overwhelming feelings leaving the game weren’t really focussed on the match itself. Instead, fuelled by several beers on an empty stomach, I was contemplating on the way home just how much fun it remains to watch Kingstonian, even in these uncertain times. I laughed and laughed in the pre-match pub session (mainly at Ali’s insistence that he has been to Leiston). At the game, our fans went through the *entire* songbook, and it took almost the whole 90 minutes to do: this year’s first rendition of the Twelve K’s of Christmas took up a full five minutes, for starters. How many clubs have songs that go on for five minutes, referencing players from two decades ago, that are known in full by every supporter? A small group of Canadian tourists were so impressed on Sunday that they had trekked all the way to Hendon to stand behind the goal and support K’s again – and they might even come to Tonbridge on Saturday! Sometimes we forget that watching Kingstonian can be, and in fact should be, great fun. Last night brought that fun back. Long may it continue.

5. That’s why it’s particularly sad that we can no longer ignore the “off the pitch stuff” – as it’s always obliquely referred to – when we’re at matches, because the time has finally arrived when that ‘stuff’ is really happening: voting in the referendum officially opened yesterday. In amongst the supportive chanting last night, there were also renditions of “4-0 to director’s loans”, “we’re overspending, we don’t give a fuck” and, directed at supporter-run Hendon, “fan owned, and you’re 4-0 down”. These songs – as much a product of the pints being drunk as genuine opinions on the issue of fan ownership, to be fair – make the point, albeit not in an eloquent way, that there isn’t overwhelming enthusiasm among the fans for taking control of the club at this time. What a shame that, even on a raucous, boozy, loud night which ended with a 4-1 away win, we have to think about ownership structures and director’s loans.

All You Need Is Moss – Staines Town (A)

1. Having missed the first four games of the season, I came through the turnstiles at Wheatsheaf Park – having reluctantly paid the exorbitant £12 to get in, something of which Staines Town should be thoroughly ashamed – fairly excited at the prospect of seeing some new players and full of hope for the year ahead. But my bubble of enthusiasm was burst pretty quickly by conversations with people who’d actually seen K’s play. I was told that we were “dreadful”, “hopeless”, and worst of all, “not bad in a funny way, just bad in a bad way”. Given that background, the result was a pleasant surprise, and left me wondering what all the fuss was about. This was a 2-0 win that wasn’t too dissimilar to the 2-0 win at the same venue last season, and by the end a result that was fairly comfortable.

2. Last season, the K’s striker that led the line at Staines and dominated the game from the front was a certain Ricky Sappleton, in what was undoubtedly his best performance in a red-and-white hooped shirt. This year, there was an equally impressive performance from returning hero Ryan Moss, the clear man-of-the-match and by far the best player on the pitch. Moss won flick ons and held the ball up, as he will have to do playing in this side, but he did so much more than play the role of a limited Ryman League number 9: he also ran in behind, worked the channels, passed the ball well, and best of all scored one and set up another. Well played.

3. Moss is clearly our star player and showed his quality…but the concerns fans have had about performances haven’t been about Moss. What about the rest of the side, and the team in general? Rob Tolfrey is still a genius, and the back four is solid – Bruce Hogg deputised well for Innsy – so no problems there. Pico is class and should link well with Moss, given Pico’s general tendency to drop deeper to receive the ball and Moss’ desire to lead the line and run in behind. We’ve also got Tom Derry to return from injury, so up front we seem well covered.

4. Clearly, then, the issues are in midfield…and on the evidence of this 90 minutes, the issues are still very much in midfield. Positives first: Joe Turner bustles down either flank well, has a great engine, and is a good dependable player at this level. Aaron “Norman” Lamont had a decent debut on the right, and provided a lot of fun when he switched to the left-wing for those of us calling him Norman (which was, in fairness, everyone). But what is frustrating for us paying punters is that the issues have *obviously* been in midfield ever since we lost Bennett, Odamatey, O’Leary and Smith…and yet we haven’t signed any proven midfielders to replace them. Instead, given that Tommy seems to have finally realised we have a serious problem, his contacts book – apparently known as the “emergency phone book” to one K’s fan behind the goal – has been raided for Ola Sogbamnu of all people, a man who played centre half last season and is part of a song about the worst Kingstonian players of all time. He’s clearly improved since then, because Sogbamnu was actually half decent at Wheatsheaf Park, putting himself about in front of defence and winning some important headers and challenges. But given he has no quality on the ball and questionable positioning when playing in midfield, he surely can’t be a long-term solution. And then there is his midfield partner on Saturday, Dan Gallagher. In the interests of fairness, I won’t say too much before I’ve seen him play more than once, but he was as bad as it gets on Saturday…and those fans who have seen him more than once didn’t suggest his performance at Staines was an aberration. Yet he’s keeping Saidou Khan out of the team, and is being preferred to Peter Dean in central midfield, which must mean they’re not in top form either. Eek.

5. Despite all of that, it’s worth repeating that we won the game. In spells, we were actually pretty good, particularly in the second half, when we looked altogether more solid and like an actual football team. In truth, we should have scored more than two: Ryan Moss somehow skied one from about a yard out (and was then serendaded with a cheeky chant of Ryan Miss Miss Miss by the away support) and K’s managed to waste two glorious chances on the counter attack. So some positives, and we’re out of the bottom four.  But make no mistake, this was a game between two poor sides rather than K’s completely turning the corner. Please, please, please, Tommy Williams: do what you should have done during Summer and free up a chunk of the budget for a proper midfield player, because if we do that, I think we’ll be a pretty good football team.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 8; Goode 7, Hogg 7, Page 8, Wells 6; Lamont 7, Gallagher 3, Sogbamnu 5, Turner 6; Gomez 6, Moss 9

We Are The Pride of South Chessington, The Mighty Kingstonian – Needham Market (A)

1. If you didn’t make the journey to deepest Suffolk – and with the trains in chaos as usual, I can’t blame you – then you might have seen the result, and thought, “hard earned away point”. You’d be wrong, because of one very important factor that you won’t quite understand unless you were there: Needham Market were woeful. Some of the NMFC players were so comically uncoordinated that it was a wonder they could run without tripping themselves up, let alone kick a football. Their number 8, in particular, was one of the worst footballers I’ve had the misfortune to have paid £10 to watch, and did nothing but hoof the ball up in the air all afternoon. Their centre halves viewed the ball like a grenade, and panicked whenever the ball was within 10 yards of them (which wasn’t often). They were amazingly bad. Behind the goal, we laughed at the NMFC efforts in the first five minutes, and talk turned to goal difference. We couldn’t fail to beat this lot, could we?

2. But fail to beat them we did – and on another day, we might have lost. After an initial five minutes of total K’s domination, in which Pico somehow smashed the ball over from 5 yards out, the sad truth is that K’s were no better than their relegation-threatened opponents, and often forced onto the back foot. Needham Market’s number 19, after initially being mocked for his shirt number – “you’re not even good enough to get in the matchday 18, 19” – went on to be a thorn in K’s side all afternoon with some direct running down the right hand side. A long-range strike from the home side caught the wind (or just caught Tolfrey unawares) and hit the post. Meanwhile, K’s offered nothing going forward, looking pedestrian and predictable. Bennett didn’t look interested; the new lad on the left barely touched the ball all afternoon; O’Leary looked lost; both strikers were subdued.

3. One of the mysteries of the afternoon was Tommy Williams’ lack of impact on the game. Needham Market lined up in a 5-3-2, looking to be solid first and foremost. We lined up in our standard 4-4-2, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as the game went on, it was blatantly obvious that we weren’t going to play our way through Needham Market’s narrow 3 central defenders, and in particular that both our widemen were having shockers. I’m not a tactical genius, but changes clearly needed to be made if we were going to win the game, either to the formation or the personnel. Why didn’t we try and play with wingers? Or bring on Jake Kempton with more than 5 minutes left? Or just do something, anything, to break the dreadful monotony of the second half? Only Tommy will know. As a fan, it was very frustrating.

4. But despite all of that frustration, this was still a terrific day out. Needham Market is a nice enough village, with a glorious train station a short walk from the two pubs – one nice with good beer and no frills, one less nice with dreadful beer but with football, pool and darts to keep travelling fans amused. The ground had bags of character, with a bike shed (plus another burnt out bike shed) behind one goal, a huge hedge along one side, complete with ladders and a gigantic hi-vis pole so balls could be retrieved, and a homely bar. What’s not to like?

5. But, aside from hopefully the Turvey final, where do K’s go from here? In the week, Alan Inns issued a call to arms, saying the players in the squad needed to decide if they’d be happy finishing sixth, or whether they wanted to make a real go at getting in the playoffs. The response was this insipid performance, devoid of any quality or urgency. Perhaps there’ll be a reaction to this reaction? There certainly needs to be.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 6; Bennett-Johnson 6, Page 6, Hogg 5, Wells 6; Bennett 4, O’Leary 4, Odametey 5, Newman 4; Gomez 5, McCollin 4

Does Bianca Know You’re Here? – Billericay Town (A)

1. No discussion of this match can start anywhere else but the pitch, because it was the main feature of the match, and the main reason it finished 0-0. As a fan of a club which doesn’t have a pitch of its own to maintain, perhaps I can’t complain, but the pitch was in a disgraceful state. It wasn’t really that it was particularly devoid of grass (if you’re imagining a 1970s style mudbath), it was just dreadful: totally uneven, with humps and hollows all over it, and seemingly random patches of long, tufty grass interspersed with patches of bare, sticky sand. It made passing football completely impossible, and dribbling with the ball exceptionally difficult. I know it’s been a bad winter, but there were steeplechases run on better ground over the weekend, so I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse.

2. As such, no surprise that K’s only started with one of our two tricky wingers, with Peter Dean coming in (on his birthday) for the benched Malachi Hudson. The surprise given the conditions was that Bennett was so effective in the first half, cutting inside with real menace, and at one point nearly scoring the goal of the season. Just as Ali was calling ex-K’s striker Phil Williams “the non-league Paolo Wanchope”, Bennett was once again proving he is the non-league Riyad Mahrez by trying, and nearly succeeding, to beat the entire Billericay team in a slaloming run. “Bennett’s too good for you,” sang the small but enthusiastic travelling support, and in the first half that was quite often the case.

3. K’s were generally the better side in the first period, with Bennett to the fore, but struggled to create clear cut opportunities, and actually were indebted to a couple of decent Tolfrey saves to keep it goalless. The second half was precisely the opposite, despite neither team making any significant tactical changes, leading most to conclude that the conditions (pitch, wind, proximity to the bar) were clearly in favour of attacking one end. Billericay really put us under the pump after half-time, dominating territory and taking every chance to get the ball in the box. They met two K’s centre halves in imperious form, and a keeper who simply doesn’t look like making a mistake ever again, such is his consistency at the moment, and therefore ‘Ricay also struggled to really create that clear-cut chance to win the game.

4. Throughout this period, the home fans were becoming increasingly irate with the referee, who was having an inconsistent afternoon. From my vantage point down the other end, it was hard to tell whether the moans were fully justified, but it did seem as if K’s got lucky on a couple of occasions. However, that evened itself out when Andre McCollin set off on a storming run against Billericay’s tiring back four, beat one, beat two, and then when he’d reached the edge of the box and had one more Essex giant to beat, was cynically brought down. Andre was travelling at an angle rather than directly towards the goal, but he was brought down just as he was preparing to shoot on his left foot from about 16 yards. To most Ryman League centre forwards it wouldn’t have been, but all K’s fans in the ground knew that the ‘Ricay centre half had just deliberately prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity. As such the K’s fans howled for a red; the referee brought out a yellow. As a result I don’t think the home faithful can feel too hard done by, really. A draw was a fair result.

5. On a weekend when a lot of people were obsessing about the Premier League, this was a brilliantly non-league occasion. Billericay’s ground is charmingly tinpot, from the goal nets that looked like they’d been bought off Hereford United just after Ronnie Radford scored in them, to the world’s smallest main stand, through to the (wonderful) ability for fans to enjoy a pint during the game. The players added to the lower-league feel: Billericay’s number 8 seemed to have been subbed for attempting two bicycle kicks in his own half*; Andre McCollin left the field for a piss mid-way through the second half; and Peter Dean shouted “PETER DEAN” for no apparent reason mid-way through a K’s attack. And in the truest non-league tradition of all, Billericay’s keeper lost his temper with the behind the goal travelling fans for no real reason, and for at least 5 minutes acted like a total clown.

That’s non-league football. And sometimes that’s why we love it.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 6, Inns 8, Page 8, Wells 7; Bennett 6, Odametey 8, O’Leary 7, Dean 6; McCollin 7, Gomez 6

*He may have been injured, but it sure looked like he’d been subbed for showing flair!

Wet, Wet, Wet – Dorchester Town (A)

1. Why on earth did I set off at half nine, knackered, get soaked on the way to the station, and then drive for more than three hours to a non-league football game? That’s certainly what I was thinking five minutes in, with the rain so hard and the wind so strong that I was getting wet under a covered terrace, and with K’s 1-0 down already to a farcical goal. Dorchester had got in down our left, crossed the ball in, and Aaron Goode simply smashed the ball home from six yards. He didn’t slice it or shin it – he hit it right off the laces. Only Aaron will know what he was trying to do, but whatever the reason for it, K’s were really up against it.

2. Dorchester then piled on the pressure for the next 15 minutes, and K’s had to cling on to stay in the tie. The Dorch gameplan was very simple – get the ball out wide as quickly as possible and pump the ball into the box – but in the first quarter of the game, it was extremely effective. The swirling gale-force wind made defending high crosses exceptionally difficult, and K’s were missing the physical presence of Sam Page at the back. The pitch was also awful, more suited to a 3 mile chase at Cheltenham than a football game, and as such you couldn’t really blame the home team for their approach. As a result of all this we just couldn’t clear our lines properly, and whether it was from a long ball or a long throw, the ball just kept coming back into our box.

3. But it was from one of these panicked defensive situations that the game turned in K’s favour. The ball was half-cleared to Harold Odamatey, and you could almost see him think to himself: “fuck this”. He put his head down and drove through the wind and rain deep into Dorchester territory, before laying off to Gomez, who hit a low cross to the back stick where Reece Beckles slid in to score. From nowhere, suddenly we were level, and the players’ body language went up several notches. Almost immediately, K’s swept forward again and Gomez put K’s in front, to send the hardy few away supporters mental.

4. From that point on, K’s looked the more potent team, full of swagger and attitude. Instead of being battered, in the main we managed to keep Dorchester’s long ball game at arm’s length by closing down the ball better in midfield. In no small part this was because Harold Odamatey was immense. He didn’t just cover every patch of mud, breaking up play and winning the ball back for K’s, as he’d done so well in recent games; he also got forward at every opportunity, adding numbers to K’s breaks and giving Gomez the support he needed. Pico was also at his best, a real menace for the Dorchester defence, a potent mixture of holding the ball up and also running in behind. There was no shortage of effort from all the other lads, who really out a proper shift in, but in the conditions there just wasn’t enough quality on show, and defensively we never quite really convinced.

5. Sadly we didn’t manage to get over the line. Pico hit the keeper when one-on-one; Beckles couldn’t tip the bouncing ball past the advancing goalie when through on goal; and the (extremely inconsistent) referee only gave K’s a free kick, and only gave the Dorch defender a yellow, when he was clean through and taken out very, very close to the edge of the box. As such it wasn’t a surprise that Dorchester equalised, but it was a surprise that we managed to score again, leading to an ironic chorus of “4-0 to the hooped Brazil”. Still, this was a superb effort. More of the same on Monday, please.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 6, Inns 6, Hogg 6, Wells 6; Bennett 5, Odamatey 9.5, O’Leary 7, Smith 5; Beckles 7, Gomez 8

Bennett’s Too Good For You – K’s v Canvey Island

1. After a disconcerting week where every thought and conversation I’d had about Kingstonian Football Club had nothing to do with football, this was an excellent reminder of how much fun coming down to Kingsmeadow and watching K’s can be. Sunday was pretty much the perfect home non-league game: the sun shone, the stewards were absent, funny songs were sung, the home team won (and played some really entertaining football in the process), and several of the away team’s players embarrassed themselves. I left the ground with a smile on my face and the satisfaction of several hours well-spent. It would be a terrible shame to lose afternoons like this.

2. The first mention has to go to Dan Bennett, a brilliant lighthouse in a dark sea of mediocrity, a man seemingly playing a different game with different rules to his teammates. He was a joy to watch. Three times he did something so outrageous that the only proper reaction was to gawp disbelievingly, and ask the fan next to you whether you were imagining things. If he learns to shoot – and if he could shoot he’d have had a hat-trick – he won’t be playing for K’s much longer, because this kind of skill belongs at a higher level.

3. Despite Bennett’s genius, we wouldn’t have won this game without another towering performance from Alan Inns at the back. It was good – for my heart rate if nothing else – to see Sam Page restored to the starting line-up along side him, but despite K’s looking generally more solid there were still a number of occasions that Canvey’s rapid, tricky forward players got in behind our defence. Every single time, apart from for Tuohy’s goal, Inns was there to block the cross of head it away, not by accident or some mythical English centre half skill of “wanting it more”, but because he read the game well enough to anticipate the likely cross and positioned himself perfectly as a result. He’s in great form and long may it continue.

4. Having said all of that about the excellence of Inns, Bennett and the Canvey forwards, the key event in the match was a dreadful challenge by the Canvey left-back on Dan Bennett. K’s had started slowly and weren’t really in the game, when mid-way through the first half, frustrated by Bennett’s reliable first touch and bewildered by his skill, the Canvey 3 reacted in the only way that Essex defenders know: by seeking to kick the superior opponent out of the game. The tackle happened right in front of where I was standing, and the remarkable thing about this challenge wasn’t that it was so late – that happens all the time in non-league – but that it was so malicious. The intent was so obvious that you could almost see the cartoon speech bubble above him as he prepared to lunge in, thinking “I’m going to break that skilful bloke’s legs before he mugs me off again”. To be fair, the challenge was brilliantly executed: above the ball, from behind, at massive velocity, landing on Bennett’s ankle. Fortunately Bennett got up from it, gingerly at first. Then, inexplicably, the ref only awarded the Canvey 3 a yellow card. But this so enraged K’s that as a team we woke up from our initial Sunday slumber and started playing at tempo, snapping at Canvey’s heels and pressing much higher up the pitch. This directly led to the opening goal, made possible by Dylan Casey chasing a lost cause, winning the ball back, and crossing for Pico Gomez to finish calmly – as he always does. K’s never really looked back.

5. To be fair to the referee, he was certainly consistent, being from the “it’s a man’s game” school of officiating rather than a disciple of the Spanish “no contact” philosophy. Dan Sweeney got revenge for the challenge on Bennett with a textbook reducer, also worthy of a red card, but was also given just a yellow. Soon afterwards, there was a clear yellow card tackle that yielded only a free-kick. As a result, this was a game that had a fair bit of niggle by the time the clock was winding down in the second half. And as a result of that, Canvey reacted in the way any Essex team would: by getting more and more mouthy, with predictably funny results: Canvey’s number 3 had wound himself up to such an extent that he managed to tackle himself…with the corner flag; Canvey’s 8 had spent the best part of 30 seconds berating his teammates to “keep the facking ball, for fack’s sake you facking mugs” before booting the ball aimlessly 50 yards the next time he received it; the fat centre half had lost it completely and got subbed; meanwhile, the keeper and right-back (a certain Mr Sheehan) were more interested in arguing with our fans behind the goal than playing football. And, of course, the coup de grace: their number 4 got sent off for kicking out at one of our players. Here’s to many, many more years of us watching talented Essex teams self-destruct at Kingsmeadow.

Player Ratings: Tolfrey 7; Goode 7, Inns 9, Page 7, Wells 6; *Bennett 10*, Sweeney 7, Smith 6, Casey 7; Kempton 7, Gomez 7