Manager's Report for December 2019
Kingstonian manager Hayden Bird reviews another rather exciting month for the K's.
December has been another good month. The quality of the football has been excellent and the team continue to improve tactically, particularly without the ball. The work ethic, the belief and the willingness to improve is a credit to the squad and makes my job easy. I'm very pleased with all of the players.
Our opening match in December was probably the most difficult game of the season. Travelling to Folkestone Invicta three days after our FA Cup exit was always going to test the character of the team. Added to that, Folkestone Invicta were second in the League and boast an excellent home record.
To come away from the game with a very well deserved point is a testament to the players. On the night, Folkestone more than lived up to their billing. Although our general performance was not close to being our best, the character of the team was amazing. Louie put us ahead with a classic Theophanous strike which should have seen us enter the break 1-0 up. Unfortunately, a very frustrating lapse in concentration allowed the home team to equalise in the brink of half-time.
Although we didn't possess the quality with the ball we expect, the team created chances in the second half. Both Dan and Louie came close, as did Youssef. Defensively we were solid, organised and very difficult to break down. This is important. In football, it's simply not possible to be fantastic with the ball in every game. On the occasions we are not quite at it, it's vital we are in good shape defensively and very organised. Not for the first time, Cookie and the Skipper were tremendous, as was the fighting spirit of the entire team.
Having enjoyed an exceptional FA Cup run, when a team eventually loses, there is normally a reaction of disappointment in the camp. It can take two or three games to get the disappointment out of their system and consequently the results suffer. Not with this set of players, not at Kingstonian! Our reaction was to use this as a base to improve. For that reason, I drove home very proud of the team. Both as players and as men.
The following Saturday we returned home to face Merstham. Obviously, the visitors have an added motivation to beat Kingstonian, which we respect and understand. Our focus was purely on three points and ensuring we win an important League game.
With this in mind, I was delighted to win 4-0. The team passed the ball very productively and really should have won by a greater margin. During the week, we worked on set pieces so I was pleased we scored two early goals from Kenny's corners. Benno scored another fantastic individual effort while Louie completed the day with a brace. The big man's second goal was his fifteenth goal of the season. Pretty impressive, considering it was only the 7th December!
On the Wednesday night we faced Merstham again. In approaching the game, I decided to make wholesale changes. We changed the shape to suit selection and made six changes to the starting line-up. I completely rested Louie, Kenny, Ollie, Reece and Simon. Dan Hector was on the bench. This allowed Calum, Thommo, Jerry, Harry, Gus and Youssef the minutes they required.
Having made similar changes against Blackfield, AFC Sudbury and Knaphill earlier in the campaign, I was comfortable with the selection. Although the changes can be perceived as devaluing the competition, the truth is I trust the players and these players deserved to play.
On the night we lost 2-3. We started very well with Calum scoring an outstanding goal. Having been in total control early on, we then switched off. Merstham took advantage and were soon 2-1 ahead. Although Calum scored another well taken goal, we performed well below the standards now expected at Kingstonian. Consequently, we conceded a late goal and exited the competition.
On the night, I had no complaints. Despite being disappointed, I knew I had made the right decision to rest our key players. On my way home I consoled myself that the decision would be vindicated a few days later. We needed players fresh for Woking and having rested half the team, I knew we would be in the right physical condition to face our biggest test of the season so far!
The following night we trained, working tactically for the game ahead. The squad were excellent on the Training Ground, as indeed they always are. Those who were rested were chomping at the bit, while the lads who played were determined to make amends. In training, we made one or two subtle changes to our defensive strategies which we hoped would give us an unexpected edge of the day.
It certainly did. Sunday 15th December was a very proud day for everyone at Kingstonian Football Club. The game had all of the hallmarks of a classic! Woking were fourth in the National League, Dowse was returning and most importantly, Kingstonian were determined to show everyone we had learned from the experience versus AFC Fylde. Dowse openly stated he wanted to get to Wembley and we fancied our chances to progress to the 2nd Round of the FA Trophy!
The game didn’t disappoint, in fact in the eyes of many, exceeded expectations. The players executed the tactical ideas to perfection and produced a performance fitting of the occasion.
After a frantic opening ten minutes, when the game settled, we controlled and dominated Woking all over the pitch. Fabio put us ahead, only to see our work wiped out by an appalling refereeing decision in the 45th minute.
At half time, we had a choice. Sulk, complain about the referee or use his decision to make us stronger and even more determined to win the game. The boys chose the latter!
Fuelled by our amazing supporters, the second half was sensational. Without the ball, the team were outstanding while our quality in possession belied the division we compete in. A second half brace from Dan Bennett secured a marvellous, memorable 3-1 victory. I was so pleased for the players, so pleased for the supporters and so pleased for the Directors. Above all though, I was very proud of Kingstonian and the progress we are making.
Unfortunately, the following two games were postponed due to the weather. As a result, we had to wait nearly two weeks for our next fixture; away to Potters Bar Town. We knew this would be a difficult game, the pitch is poor and Potters Bar are enjoying a good season.
However, we had worked hard on the Training Ground while the games were postponed and were very focused on capitalising on our games in hand.
In the build up to the game, both Simon Cooper and Jerry Puemo withdrew from the squad for personal reasons. Therefore, Sean Clohessy returned to the team, having missed the Woking game through injury. Harry Osborne switched from right back to play alongside Ollie Cook in the heart of our defence. Both players did very well. In fact, in challenging conditions the team were very good.
Louie Theophanous opened the scoring with his 17th goal of the campaign and shortly before the interval, Dan Bennett scored his 11th goal of the season. In the second half we really should have added to the scoreline. The team created three or four excellent goalscoring opportunities but somehow the third goal would not come. Despite the home team scoring in injury time, the result was never in any doubt. Again, I was absolutely delighted with the players. Our work with the ball had quality, our defensive organisation was secure and the team played with a passion and a spirit that we have all come to expect from Kingstonian.
Although the victory placed us in mid-table, the League remains very misleading. Despite having further cup games to look forward to, we are now very focused on the League. If we remain concentrated, humble and continue to play with personality, within six to eight weeks we will be putting the teams above us under real pressure. We need to use our games in hand productively and providing we do so, Kingstonian will be where we want to be.
So what can we look forward to in 2020? Let’s not set targets. Managers who publicly set targets place players under unnecessary pressure, which often results in disappointment on the terraces. Let’s continue to work hard, improve and give everything on the pitch.
Now that sounds like a New Year’s resolution!
Happy New Year Kingstonian!
Kingstonian Football Club.