Grier's Guide to the 2017-18 Season
Simon Grier reaches the post-Kingsmeadow era in his season reviews as Ks endure a chaotic season groundsharing at Fetcham Grove.
Craig Edwards had done a great job to keep Ks in the Ryman Premier the previous season and now he had a new task – leading them into a new era after leaving Kingsmeadow. For 2017-18 they shared at Leatherhead’s Fetcham Grove – a decent ground in a pleasant town, although much further from home than would be ideal.
A mixed start
In pre-season though, despite a last-minute trip to Gibraltar, Ks were rocked by the loss of Joe Turner and as the season began there was a feeling that the squad was a lot thinner than it ought to be. There was little squad depth and Ks went in to the opening game of the season, away to a big-spending Billericay side featuring ex-Premier League players Paul Konchesky, Jamie O’Hara and Jermaine Pennant, as a huge underdog.
But the game proved to be a quite remarkable smash and grab victory for Edwards against his former club, Ks soaking up pressure throughout the game before Lewis Taylor powered home a famous last-minute goal that for a few days made Ks the toast of non-league.
It very much proved to be a false dawn though as the fans’ concerns of a lack of creative options and a small squad told over the next three games – a tepid goalless draw with Burgess Hill followed and then consecutive hammerings, 5-0 at Staines and 4-0 at ‘home’ to Leatherhead.
Two Mano Gagonas long throws helped Ks get past Hayden Bird’s Merstham though and a pair of Taylor penalties just about saw off Shoreham, bottom of the division below, 3-2 in an FA Cup tie that was hairier than it should have been. But the arrivals of centre-back Claudiu Vilcu and creative midfielder Tom Collins helped to improve the side and Ricky Sappleton starred with a goal and an assist as Ks beat Lowestoft 3-2.
An impressive Brackley side put Ks out of the FA Cup but a 6-0 hammering of Harlow was the first of three wins in a row and when Ks visited Burgess Hill and took an early lead they briefly topped the live league table – albeit only because the game kicked off at 7:30 when everyone else played at the more usual 7:45. Sadly though, Ks went on to lose 5-1 and after losing their next two as well Edwards dramatically left the club, citing budget cuts.
Kim Harris oversaw a win and a loss as caretaker manager before Ks announced the appointment of Whyteleafe manager Leigh Dynan as Edwards’ permanent replacement. It’s true that there was some concern that Dynan hadn’t previously managed at Ks’ level but the fans were nonetheless keen to get behind him – he was literally greeted with fireworks for his first game, a thrilling 3-3 draw with Thurrock in the FA Trophy.
Taylor left at the same time as Edwards, shortly followed by impressive midfielder Kane Haysman. It left Dynan with a desperately thin squad and only 12 players available for the replay, yet somehow Ks won 4-1 at Ship Lane; a fine Collins goal rounding off the scoring before Gibraltar international Evan Green made a cameo from the bench in what would be his only Ks appearance.
Dynan’s first league game came at Hendon and without having to worry about players being cup-tied he could at last put his own stamp on the team, handing out six debuts. He had promised that his teams play with ‘pace and power’ and he duly delivered as Ks overcame The Dons 3-1 with an immense performance. Some fans felt ‘The Dyna-sty’ had arrived but sadly the early promise quickly failed to materialise.
The struggle for a settled side
Ks went 2-0 up at Met Police in their next game but then threw it away and lost 3-2. Relegation-threatened Tooting won by the same scoreline before Ks went on a shocking run where they failed to score in their next six league games and plunged completely out of the playoff picture. Meanwhile they exited the FA Trophy with an abysmal 5-1 loss to Ryman One North side Heybridge.
Dynan continued to tinker with squad, then tinker again and tinker some more. Popular players such as Aaron Goode, Vilcu, Collins and Alec Fiddes were disposed of; others came and went with such speed that the fans struggled to keep up as Dynan sought a magic formula to change their fortunes around. But even the return of beloved former striker Andre McCollin didn’t seem to help, with him recently telling the Weaving In and Out podcast that he struggled with the turnover in the squad.
Louie Theophanous was another signing and he starred in a genuinely impressive 4-1 win over Enfield before grabbing both goals in a 2-1 win at Needham Market. But most of Ks’ successes were coming away from Fetcham Grove – a wet winter made the pitch hard to play on and the Enfield result was K’s only home league win between mid-October and mid-April.
Some good away results helped Ks keep their head above water, especially as another non-league restructure meant only the bottom team would go down. In fact they won four in a row on the road at one point, the fourth of those a fine win at Dorking Wanderers when Nic Ciardini blasted home two goals before memorably admonishing a Ks fan who’d questioned his worth to the side. But a couple of weeks later he too had left the club and Ks hit another bad run, seven games without a win.
With only one team going down the season petered out for a lot of teams and Ks made up some ground to finish a respectable 13th in the league. They took 16 points from their last eight games in just three weeks, as teams battled to make up for fixture congestion. Late signing Muhammadu Faal, now with League One Bolton, starred with seven goals in those games, placing him just one behind the season’s top scorer (Tom Derry with eight).
The late run ensured Dynan would get another chance the following season – where a return to the borough and a bigger playing budget were both on the cards – but this was a season that Ks fans were delighted to see come to an end.