“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.

Match Preview – Maidstone United (H)

There’d be a certain irony if tomorrow’s game were to be postponed – this is, after all, Maidstone’s first game due to be played on grass since the Conference’s decision to vote against allowing 3G pitches. But *if* the game’s on – and despite Kingsmeadow’s fantastic drainage, the severity of the weather expected to arrive suggests that’s a big if – then it promises to be another mouthwatering clash between two of the best sides in the Ryman League. So here’s the good, the bad and the downright ugly sides of the two teams.

Kingstonian

The Good: K’s are a contender largely because we’re the side with the best defensive record, having conceded just 25 goals in 27 games. This is no accident: Rob Tolfrey is the division’s best goalkeeper, dominant, agile and consistent; Matt Page and Matt Drage are both dependable, strong centre halves, but an even better partnership; and Josh Casey is an impeccable further shield to the K’s goal sitting just in front of the back four. Other teams will have to continue to work hard to score against Kingstonian. Another strength for K’s is the front pairing of Andre McCollin and Ryan Moss, who must be giving opposition managers headaches every week – as they’re both strong, quick and goalscorers, how on earth do you manage to mark them both out of the game? The simple answer is that you don’t: they’ve scored 40 goals between them in all competitions so far.

The Bad: But apart from Moss and McCollin, goals have been hard to come by – and as a result K’s are the lowest scorers of the leading pack. Alan Dowson would have expected a better return from players such as Charlie Knight and Dan Sweeney, both capable of shooting with venom. Perhaps Dan Sweeney’s late strike against Dulwich is the first sign of improvement in this area? The only glaring weakness in K’s first eleven is at right-midfield. Dee Okojie has tried hard, but not offered a consistent end product, and has tended to disappear from big games; Charles Ofusu-hene offers power and direct running, but has failed to track back once too often, and never manages to get to the by-line; and meanwhile the mercurial Matt Pattison – probably the most talented player in the whole squad – has struggled to such an extent this term that he’s been farmed out on loan. And it’s the loan market Alan Dowson has turned to in a quest for a solution, by signing Iffy Allen from Barnet for an initial month – but it’s early days for the young winger. If K’s can threaten more often down the right flank, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

The Ugly: Referee Chris Thomas’ display against Met Police knocked the stuffing out of K’s, and helped to lead to a 2-1 home defeat in K’s last game. When that match was played, K’s would have gone four points clear at the top of the table with a win, and would have grabbed hold of the Ryman League by the scruff of its neck. Instead, by losing that game, and with all K’s competitors winning since, K’s are very much back in the pack. A great opportunity missed.

Maidstone United

The Good: Maidstone are consistent – they’ve lost only 4 of their 28 games so far this season – and that’s a quality very few Ryman League teams possess. In particular, the Stones as solid as their pitch when they’re playing at home, being unbeaten there this season. Although some of the locals – probably not the ones who went to Sittingbourne and Ashford, I’d imagine – have been complaining that there have been too many draws and not enough wins, last week’s 7-2 destruction of the Beavers should have broken that particular dam. As far as players go, Frannie Collin has 17 league goals so far, meaning there’ll be 3 outstanding strikers on show on Saturday.

The Bad: All four losses suffered by the Stones this season have come on the green, green grass (well, okay, the brown, brown mud in most cases) away from their Gallagher Stadium home. In particular, a recent 4-1 defeat at Thamesmead was a remarkably poor return. Let’s face it, Thamesmead are dire. But even their ‘bad’ away record isn’t that bad when it’s inspected more closely: they’ve won 8 out of 12, including a win at Bognor, and 2 of those 4 defeats were at fortresses Wealdstone and Dulwich.

The Ugly: The Conference’s vote to not allow 3G pitches, for next season at any rate, means that as it stands Maidstone United would be refused promotion to the Conference South if they win the title or the playoffs. How will the squad react to the knowledge that no matter how they do this year, if they stay at Maidstone they won’t be Conference South players next season? I strongly suspect that the players won’t care – they’re already being paid better than most of their peers in the higher league – but what is the next step for the club? Certainly, it seems only a matter of time until the authorities come to their senses and allow 3G at all levels of non-league, but until that happens will Maidstone continue to push to win the title when the money spent on wages could, perhaps, be better spent on increasing their new ground’s 2200 capacity in preparation for eventual life in the Conference?

Prediction

Unless something unusual happens – an early sending off, one player having the game of his life – then this should be a very close match between two very good teams. K’s caused Maidstone enough problems in August, despite the 2-0 loss, to suggest that the Stones won’t have it all their own way, but Maidstone will be cock-a-hoop after their seven goals last week. I’ll chicken out and predict a 2-2 draw.