Kingstonian new boy Lewis Taylor says they had a strategy to beat Bognor Regis and after a 1-0 Ryman Premier League win, it clearly worked.
And Kingstonian needed it too - without a league win since October, and conceding goals from all angles, manager Alan Dowson shuffled his pack in both midfield and defence.
But it took a late penalty save from Rob Tolfrey to keep out the Rocks, while the home side’s cause was immeasurably assisted by the harsh first-half red card dealt to Bognor keeper Craig Stoner.
Taylor said: “Bognor are a very good side. We had a strategy to get in their faces and not let them play and it worked. Some games you have to do that.
"You have to be able to mix it. Some games you pass it and look a million dollars, others you have to dig in and grind out three points.”
Taylor has considerable experience in the Blue Square South with AFC Wimbledon and scored Tonbridge Angels’ winner in the Ryman Premier playoff final two years ago.
He said Ks have what it takes to survive in the league above: “In the Blue Square South teams are fitter. They train more than twice a week but I’ve played in the Ryman before and I’d say Ks are the fittest team so if we did go up I think we’d be fine.”
After an opening period Bognor had dominated, passing and moving with slick confidence, Ks midfielder Matt Pattison sent Andre McCollin clear on goal in the 44th minute. The striker rounded Stoner who appeared to resist making contact as the McCollin went down.
Referee Wes Linden blew for a penalty and promptly sent the goalkeeper off. McCollin stepped up and struck the spot-kick low to the left of substitute keeper Tom Boyle, banishing thoughts of his miss at the same end of the ground against Dartford in the FA Trophy.
Assistant manager Mark Hams said he had no doubt McCollin would be brave enough to take the opportunity. "The next training session after Dartford, we asked: 'If we get a penalty, who wants to take it?' And Andre was pretty much saying: 'If anyone thinks they're taking my penalties away, they can think again'. And that's what you want to see."
Suddenly momentum has been restored to a league campaign that has promised so much and Taylor, whose hard running disrupted Bognor’s flow all afternoon, said the team is aiming to push on during the busy Christmas schedule.
He said: “We’re in a great position, three points off the playoffs. We’re not just going for the playoffs. We want to challenge for the top. That’s the talk in the changing room.”
Taylor was joined on Saturday in a revamped central midfield by 21-year-old Harry Harding, while new defender Nathan Green impressed at left-back and loan-signing from AFC Wimbledon Callum McNaughton partnered Kieran Murphy at centre-back. The changes produced a first clean-sheet in the league since 27 August.
Hams said that was down to workrate against a Bognor team he praised as the best passers in the league. "We couldn't have a 'let them have [the ball]' mentality today because they'll tear you to pieces," he said.
"We put pressure on as early as possible. It took a lot of lungs and a lot of hard work."
Despite being down to 10 men Bognor almost grabbed a share of the points deep into the second half when Taylor, typically tracking back, was unlucky to foul Harvey White but Tolfrey dived to his right to keep out James Crane’s penalty.
It might have been harsh on the Rocks, but Ks can also look back on a number of chances. McCollin hit the post in the first-half after a fine move involving Dean Lodge while the 13-goal striker also had a second-half effort saved.
Lodge, back in form after recovering from a foot injury, went close on two occasions cutting in from the left-hand side, his chipped-finish cleared off the line by Jon Marzetti.
Ks host Hendon on Monday night before travelling to Cray Wanderers next Sunday.