Grier's Guide to the 2016-17 Season
Simon Grier continues his look at seasons past in 2016-17, and a great escape from relegation for Ks.
Writing now it seems almost impossible to believe that it’s only three years since our dramatic escape from relegation in 2017. So much has happened at Ks in the meantime – not to mention the world as a whole – that it feels like a lifetime ago.
Ks went into the season knowing it would be their last at Kingsmeadow. There was no reason not to be optimistic on the pitch, though – Tommy Williams’ side had come close to the playoffs the previous season and new signings included reliable defender Alan Inns and the popular returning striker Ryan Moss.
A patchy start
But the optimism didn’t survive the first week of the season, with Harlow Town bagging a last minute winner on their plastic pitch before Ks followed up by drawing at home to Hendon and losing to Needham Market.
A 3-0 defeat followed at Enfield and although three goals in two games for Moss got the season going with wins over Staines and Met Police, the FA Cup heaped further pressure on Ks. They crashed out 4-1 at VCD Athletic, bottom of the division below, in a truly dreadful performance that rightly angered the fans.
The midfield had come in for particular criticism and Williams responded by signing Michael Onovwigun, who made an immediate impact with two goals in a 4-4 draw away to Leiston.
Form remained mixed but Ks climbed their way up to midtable before progress was stunted again with three consecutive home losses to Enfield, Harlow and Worthing.
The FA Trophy brought some joy though. Moss scored twice as Ks came from behind to beat Lewes in the first qualifying round and then in the second, a Joe Turner brace saw Tonbridge off in a replay – the winner a highly impressive goal that saw him run from the halfway line.
The third and final qualifying round saw Ks visit North Leigh, a level below Ks in the Southern League. But the tiny village in rural Oxfordshire was the scene of another cup embarrassment for Kingstonian as Williams’ side went down 1-0, adding North Leigh to the long list of names who have ‘upset’ Ks in the cups – a list so long that had become so long that no matter who the opposition were, they stopped qualifying as upsets. A ‘winnable’ tie against South Park and then a visit to Tranmere Rovers would have beckoned.
League form never moved from being patchy, a Moss hat-trick in a win over Canvey Island the winter’s highlight, a brutal 5-2 home defeat to Lowestoft the lowpoint.
On 14 January Ks won 3-2 at Leatherhead, a game probably most notable for the match report going viral after Tanners boss Jimmy Bullard fell over. Ks were safely midtable, every step forward followed by one backwards and vice-versa – and it’s fair to say that no-one foresaw what was to come.
What was to come was a run of just one point in ten games that culminated in Ks sliding into the relegation zone and the board relieving Williams of his duties. As the run progressed the prospect of relegation went with alarming speed from being the subject of a silly joke, to an outside chance, to a genuine possibility, to something that seemed more likely than not.
Many fans called for a change after a 3-2 home defeat to Harrow, a game Ks had led 2-0; that was the sixth of the run and in the end Williams got four more games to try to turn it round before the final straw was reached with a 2-1 defeat at relegation rivals Burgess Hill that left Ks in the drop zone.
Late revival and farewell to Kingsmeadow
Craig Edwards was the man called to try to save Ks and he only had six games to do it. The first of the six was a defeat, at home to Leatherhead, but the performance and fight were much improved and wins over Burgess Hill and Leiston, alongside a goalless draw at Worthing, lifted Ks back towards safety.
A win at Merstham in the penultimate game of the season would ensure Ks’ survival and there was a large travelling contingent for the crucial game against the Hayden Bird-managed side. And the win came in a tale of two penalties, Moss scoring an early one for Ks before Rob Tolfrey saved from Dan Bennett to guarantee Ks’ Premier Division survival.
It meant the final game of the season – also Ks’ final game ever at Kinsgmeadow – could be a celebration of the good times in the ground without the stress of a relegation fight. It finished 0-0, a result that guaranteed visitors Havant and Waterlooville the league title, and as fireworks went off over the KRE and the supporters drank into the night, Ks fans could reminisce over 28 rollercoaster years in the ground. But 2016-17 as a whole was not a season that would be remembered with a great deal of fondness.