Grier's Guide to the 2013-14 Season
Simon Grier’s latest season review looks back to 2013-14 – Alan Dowson’s last as Ks manager – and a frustrating near miss for an excellent Ks side.
Two consecutive mid-table disappointments lowered expectations going into the 2013-14 season, but Alan Dowson was undeterred as he sought once again to build a squad capable of winning promotion.
Another new centre-back pairing hoped to shore up the defence - Sam Page and Matt Drage - while new striker Ryan Moss provided a powerful ally to the pacey Andre McCollin in a promising strike partnership, and Tommy Kavanagh and Dee Okojie were expected to add dynamism to the midfield. An unusually good pre-season also raised the hopes.
And the new-look defence could not have had a better start. Almost unbelievably, Ks started the season with six consecutive clean sheets to go top of the league. Five of them were victories, a goalless draw at Harrow Borough the only slip-up in a run that also included tough 1-0 wins away to Canvey and at home to Hampton, and more comfortable wins over Enfield (3-0), East Thurrock (3-0) and Wingate & Finchley (4-0). The latter game saw Moss net a hat-trick, showing that he had a real eye for goal as well as being a hard-working physical presence up front.
The run ended in a 2-0 defeat on Maidstone United's plastic pitch but Ks rebounded with a 4-1 win at home to Grays. McCollin, who had started the season quite slowly, grabbed all four goals, the last one a fine team effort on the counter-attack. Page and Drage were excellent throughout, a fine partnership in fantastic form, marshalling the defence superbly.
As is often the case though, the early-season optimism was eventually snuffed out. The unbeaten run ended with a 2-1 defeat to Bognor and then Ks lost 2-1 to Margate in the FA Cup - a frustrating result considering they were a mid-table side that year.
Ks won three of their next four in the league, the exception being a frustrating 3-2 defeat at Billericay after Matt Somner was sent off, but suffered a very poor FA Trophy exit at Folkestone Invicta. They lost 2-0 to the Ryman 1 South side, the misery compounded for many Ks fans by serious delays on the train home.
Controversial refereeing led to a 2-0 loss at Lowestoft Town but Ks went unbeaten in their next five league games, conceding just once and hitting both Lewes and Cray for four. McCollin notched another hat-trick against the former and the games were interspersed by another fine result as Ks won at Sutton in a surprisingly competitive Surrey Senior Cup tie. Josh Casey, a recent arrival adding both creativity and steel to the midfield, scored the only goal of the game.
A loss at home to Wealdstone followed though and was symptomatic of a worrying trend: while Ks were brushing the division's lower teams aside with ease, they were unable to record victories against their rivals at the sharp end of the table.
Wins over Enfield and Canvey followed but on Boxing Day Ks were stuffed 4-1 at Hampton despite taking an early lead, while what happened two days later at Kingsmeadow was arguably even more of a horrorshow. Ks led 2-0 at home to ten man Harrow Borough with eleven minutes remaining yet somehow drew 2-2, poor finishing and complacency setting in to ruin what had been a good performance.
Dowson had responded to the Hampton defeat by moving to a wing-back formation with veteran Sean Ray coming into the defence. Given how well the defence had done up to the Hampton game it seemed to be a case of trying to fix a problem that didn't exist and the formation change led to Ks' worst spell of the season. More appalling refereeing contributed to a 2-1 home defeat to Met Police but there was no excuse for the thrashings that followed, 3-0 to Maidstone and 4-1 to Hendon. Both were at Kingsmeadow and gave the impression of a season unravelling.
Ks limped to a miserable 1-0 win at home to nine-man Wingate - a performance that was about as bad as any can be in a game that nonetheless ends in victory - before throwing away another two goal lead to draw at relegation-threatened Thamesmead. Further defeats followed to East Thurrock and Billericay, the former featuring a highly experimental formation as Dowson looked to do something to get Ks back on form.
By this point Ks had plunged well outside the playoff places but thankfully Dowson had an ace up his sleeve. Two aces in fact, as Steve Laidler and Daniel Pappoe both arrived to shore up the central midfield. With Dowse reverting again to a flat back four Ks were about to embark on one of the best runs of their modern history - a remarkable 13 games without defeat.
It started by coming from behind to win 2-1 at Margate before Moss scored a penalty in a 1-1 draw against a physical Hornchurch side. They drew at Lewes and beat Bury twice - the home win thanks to an injury-time header from Matt Drage - while also grinding out a succession of tough 0-0 draws away at Bognor, Grays and Leiston.
The hapless Cray, on their way to relegation, were beaten 4-0 but two results really caused optimism to begin to surge: an Okojie strike saw Ks beat Lowestoft 1-0 in a crucial home game before they ruined champions-elect Wealdstone's promotion party with an incredible 4-0 away win. Moss and McCollin both scored twice in a 5-1 win over already-relegated Carshalton to move Ks up to third and guarantee a playoff berth.
On the last day of the season Ks visited Dulwich, knowing a result would give them a chance of second and all-important home advantage for the playoffs. And a 1-1 draw, thanks to a strike from youngster Dan Sweeney, proved enough to do just that when Bognor slipped up at East Thurrock.
Playoff agony, chapter three
Ks were brimming with confidence on the back of such an impressive run but for the third time in just over a decade, the Conference South playoffs proved a source of only heartbreak. Hornchurch came with a gameplan to be physical and to break up the flow of the game; they did it ruthlessly effectively.
Ks dominated early on but couldn't score, not helped by Sweeney limping off injured, before the sucker-punch came from a set piece just after half-time. Thereafter the Essex side completely shut the game down and rarely looked threatened, although Moss was denied a good penalty shout in the last minute.
Dowson stated recently on the Weaving In And Out podcast that he found this defeat even more disappointing than the one four years earlier at Boreham Wood, because this was such a good side that had deservedly come second in the league. Two weeks later he resigned, bringing his era at Kingsmeadow to a close. He had taken Ks from the bottom half of Ryman One South to make three serious stabs at promotion to Conference South. It was a fine legacy for a mostly enjoyable era and 'Dowse' remains a popular figure at Ks to this day.