Caught betweek the Rocks and a hard place
Kingstonian's 3-2 home defeat to East Thurrock not only saw them knocked out of the FA Cup, but also asked more fundamental questions about the credentials of Alan Dowson's side.
Make no mistake, this was no snatch and grab cup victory. East Thurrock comprehensively dominated the game, and it was thanks only to their wasteful finishing and a late defensive lapse that the scoreline was as close as it was.
The first half was particularly bad for Ks as their defences were breached time and again. In the very first minute Rob Tolfrey had to beat out a Reiss Gilbey effort. In the tenth minute the Essex side took the lead however, when he could only a punch a long free kick out to Kye Ruel who drove home from the edge of the box.
The Rocks maintained the pressure as Tolfrey did well to prevent a Kieran Murphy own goal, Karl Murray blocked a Sam Higgins effort and Ruel cleared the crossbar with a good chance.
Andre McCollin and Dean Lodge came close with half-chances for Ks but the visitors continued to look the stronger team. Hakeem Araba twice found himself in acres of space but fortunately for Ks he put his first effort over and then Tolfrey made a close-range save from his second chance. Gilbey came close from distance, Kris Newby forced Tolfrey to save a powerful shot and then Higgins volleyed wide.
Dowson might have hoped just to get to half time with the deficit at only one but it was not to be, as East Thurrock's pressure was rewarded with a fine second goal. A neat flick into the penalty area fell to Higgins, who smashed home a volley from a tough angle.
Ks' defence at least looked somewhat less porous after the break, and some trademark brilliance from the otherwise quiet Dean Lodge gave them a lifeline. Receiving the ball on the right flank he turned Tom Stephen inside out with some exquisite skill before bending the ball into the corner with the outside of his boot.
It did little to shift the momentum in the game though and Ks became increasingly frustrated at their inability to break East Thurrock down. Newby hit the crossbar from the edge of the box and then the visitors struck what should have been the decisive blow on 75 minutes.
Ruel latched onto a through ball and as he bore down on Tolfrey he was hauled back by Ks skipper Tom Hutchinson. The referee awarded a penalty, with the inevitable red card for Hutchinson's professional foul, and Higgins powered the ball down the middle past the diving Tolfrey.
Rather than close the game down though they immediately gifted Ks a lifeline. Their defence got into a horrendous mix-up in dealing with an aimless punt forward and Matt Pattison took full advantage by slotting past goalkeeper Richard Wray.
Down to ten men though Ks still failed to muster any momentum, as Newby again forced Tolfrey to save from distance. On Ks' final throw of the dice Stephen hacked Lodge down before he had the opportunity to cross, a move which not only curtailed Lodge's attack but also injured him.
Effectively down to nine the Ks challenge was over, and the free kick led only to an East Thurrock counter-attack from which Tolfrey did superbly to deny Higgins a hat-trick. Ks have now yet again failed to have a meaningful FA Cup run - only once since the famous 2001 run have they won more than one tie - but perhaps of even greater concern will be the manner of the defeat and what it means for a squad which has got supporters so excited.