Match day brought second placed, big spending Kingstonian to Longmead, where a perky last 20 minutes against Brightlingsea last week gave the Angels hope that an awful run of form might be coming to an end.
Tonbridge had seen a quiet turnover of players in recent weeks as Steve McKimm worked to refresh his squad. The departure of long serving Tommy Whitnell this week was greeted with sadness, not only by the staff who managed his family’s bar tab, but also by the fans who appreciated Tommy’s skill and commitment, even when it was diminished through injury.
As the floodlights cut through the Stygian gloom which has blanketed this part of Kent in January, the Angels faithful looked to bright new signing Chinedu McKenzie to illuminate the game on the pitch. Paired up with Alex Read, and with recalled Jared Small on one flank and Joe Turner on the other, a genuine 4-4-2 set up was finally being unveiled at home in the sixth month of the season. Was it the answer? Meanwhile Kingstonian came armed with a strong squad on a good run of form, and there was the reasonable expectation of a win among the annual outing of the Tolworth branch of the Steve McKimm fan club.
What followed was an extremely entertaining match which either side could have won. Lively opening exchanges saw attacking intent from both sides, and the Angels took the lead on 10 minutes when McKenzie’s sharp low cross was side footed in by Read from close range. The lead was doubled by Turner with a well placed shot across Tolfrey in the 27th minute.
This was a fair representation of the game as, apart from Theophanous’s impressive miss from 6 inches in the 21st minute, the K’s spent most of the first half peppering the Bowls Club next door whenever they came within 25 yards of the goal. Two goals in the first half for the Angels for the first time in four months. A piece of cake beckoned at half time as the clock ticked past 45 minutes – until a clown jumped out and splatted it right into the home team’s face.
First, the Angels weren’t quick enough to organise for a short corner, which was well headed in at the back post by Inman. Ho hum, 2-1 at half time was still a decent return. Except it wasn’t. Because somehow the Angels still found time to allow McCauley enough space to tee up a shot from 25 yards which, instead of knocking over another plate of sandwiches in the Bowls Club pavilion, pinged beautifully into the top corner.
The half time team talk for both managers had just been ripped up. 2-2 at half time was a bit harsh on Tonbridge Angels, and the kind of setback which has caused a collapse in recent weeks, so the mood of the locals over their half time pints was as gloomy as the weather.
When the match resumed for the second half Kingstonian understandably pressed on, but the Angels held it together with more steel than of late. The quality of Jack Parter shone through at left back, while MOTM D’Sean Theobalds was a smart, hard working creative outlet. Tonbridge weathered the storm and on the 71st minute Tolfrey couldn’t hold a well hit free kick at the near post, and McKenzie lapped up the rebound, celebrating like a cat who’d found the cream.
With a positive outlook, Tonbridge kept taking the game to an increasingly worried Kingstonian, and sub Tom Murphy hit the post and had a goal disallowed for offside as the they tried to close it out. Kingstonian traded knocking over plates of sandwiches at one end of the ground for knocking owls out of the trees at the other, and never really looked like turning pressure into goals. So the Angels ran the clock down, as the referee contrived in their usual mysterious way to run it up, and secured a desperately needed win.
Looking at the league table after the game, Tonbridge may seem off the pace in 10th, while Kingstonian are 3rd, but only 5 points separate 10th from 2nd. The league leaders Haringey also lost today to the team in 21st, so it’s frankly the best chance in years for any one of a dozen teams to bag promotion.
Is this the Angels’ kick start? We shall see….