Knaphill Athletic 1 Keens Park Rangers Reserves 1

Goals: Charlie Pocock

Bookings: Connor Reeves

Man-of-the-match: Tom Coles

As much as the horrendous weather was in stark contrast to last week’s balmy sunshine, selection issues remain a hardy perennial for the ressies. And yet, manager elect, Mungo had done sterling work in conjuring up a side that produced the best performance of the season in a competitive draw that could have gone either way.

Given KPR’s selection issues the day got off to a rather bizarre start, as a mix up caused a spare keeper to turn up despite not having been asked to play?! Graeme Souness might have been hoodwinked into singing ‘George Weah’s mate’ but one doubts he ever had to ask someone in the dressing room “Who are you?”.

Mungo’s face was a picture when questioned if he’d asked him to play and once it had been confirmed that the unfortunate situation had materialized of his own volition he declined the invitation to be a substitute and left.

Surprisingly, given the weather conditions, the players were also eager to leave the warmth of the dressing room. The pre-match frivolities, including a jaded manager struggling to get his wet weather gear on, had everyone in a buoyant mood and this continued onto the pitch.

Knaphill are undoubtedly one of the better teams in the league but KPR got off to their best start of the season with the returning James Nixon immediately putting the opposition’s defence under pressure from their own kick off. This, in turn, created two half-decent chances in the opening minutes but Knaphill soon settled and demonstrated their quality.

Knaphill are no slouches in physicality either with a few cheeky ankle taps going in after the ball had gone. KPR, the ever-robust Adam East aside, might not have the same mindset but everyone accepted the challenge (that included a kiss for Jake Ladd and some ‘knob touch’ for East) in good spirit and all gave the referee a relatively easy afternoon.

There were, however, ‘fouls’ all over the pitch and the ref had to interrupt play three times for the removal of dog mess. This led to a breakout of détant between the managers as O’Shea produced a roll of poo bags from his pocket!

The generosity did not end their either as KPR were affording the opposition’s midfield far too much space to thread the ball inside the fullbacks on numerous occasions. The KPR defence had as many holes as Charlie Findlay’s turquoise boxers and it didn’t take long for one such ball to produce a goal with Adam Way beaten for pace, and keeper Tom Coles choosing to stay on his line, the Knaphill forward had plenty of time to set himself before unceremoniously blasting the ball into the net.

As much as Coles could be criticized for that particular decision he immediately learnt from that mistake and saved another four (possibly five?) one-on-ones in the first half alone. Having been reprieved, the outfield players responded by rediscovering the form of the opening minutes and created a number of chances so conspicuously absent in previous weeks.

Eventually they were rewarded with a goal following a tenacious run from Connor ‘less cash than the Queen’ Reeves. His powerful run caused sufficient mayhem in the opposition’s box for the ball to then travel unimpeded across the goalmouth to find Charlie Pocock unmarked at the far post for a simple finish.

Things really ought to have got even better for the ressies before half time as more graft resulted in first Nixon, and then Elliot Westwood, unmarked inside the box with only the keeper to beat. Regrettably, both conspired to hit the keeper rather than the back of the net but going in all-square at half time was probably a fair reflection of play up to that point.

The second half replicated what had gone before. Knaphill were having the best of the play but KPR, once William Ponsonby had switched to sweeper, were coping much better in open play. Despite this Knaphill were dangerous at set pieces. All their corners and free kicks were excellent and as much as they were difficult to deal with the defence held firm.

Although Ladd had another excellent game it was a peerless man-of-the-match performance from Coles that stole the show. His performance was not the talk of the dressing room after the match however following a sliding tackle from Reeves that had the KPR supporters wincing.

As much as everyone on the touchline was convinced it was a penalty there must be a grain of truth in Reeves’ claim to have got to the ball first as the referee (22 years in the Paras) emphatically waved the Knaphill protestations away. This incident only made the closing period of the game even tenser but KPR still had opportunities to steal the match with two late headers.

Nixon was unfortunate from a corner but the Knaphill defender, who was poleaxed by KPR debutant Abubakar Insua, was even less fortunate in having his nose broken. Although both sides had thrown caution to the howling wind and rain, the match was proving to be a little too exciting for the KPR management in what seemed like an endless final minute signaled by the referee.

Although a few of the Knaphill players felt aggrieved, it was KPR smiles all-round when the whistle eventually came. Even manager O’Shea was beaming and rightly so because the ressies had come close to winning their first match. Surely, if they reproduce the spirit displayed on the day, that win isn’t far away?