The panic button has not been pressed but there are a few nervy fingers hovering over it after Kingstonian suffered a fourth straight league defeat on Saturday.

The anaemic 2-0 loss in the Ryman Premier League against a barely competent East Thurrock United leaves Alan Dowson’s men in ninth spot and four points off that precious fifth place, with most rivals having games in hand.

Judging by recent seasons, they will need to hit the 73-point mark to make the play-offs. That means winning 10 of their final 14 games.

Having started in a cautious 4-5-1, bringing Simon Huckle back into the side to screen the defence with Matt Somner, and leaving leading scorer Andre McCollin on the bench, the normally attacking Ks were devoid of shape and direction, dropping too deep and surrendering all initiative.

It did not take long for the Essex team to take advantage, Sam Higgins smashing in an unstoppable shot from 12 yards after a neat exchange in the box.

Afterwards Dowson sought to justify the ultra-defensive approach, though the tactic was hardly helped by the absence of loanee Ian Gayle, who was not permitted to play after failing to complete routine paperwork with his parent-club Dagenham & Redbridge.

“We've been working on it all week, a different shape, because we concede a lot of goals," Dowson said. 

"We got the players in today, had beans on toast, talked about it, talked about playing our way into the game first... but their centre-forward then gets between our two centre-backs and scores. That killed the whole game-plan."

There was a brief rally from the home side before the break. Lone striker Paul Vines was inches from sliding in to convert a cross from the right, while Dean Lodge had a fierce effort flicked over the bar before Lewis Taylor shot tamely when one-on-one.

But the systemic malaise continued in the second-half as Vines found himself isolated and the midfield five struggled to find angles and space.

Only one minute after a desperate triple substitution, James Lawson made it two in the 70th minute, planting a precise header past Rob Tolfrey.

Ks face a long trip to Leiston next Saturday, home of the Sizewell nuclear power station. Another defeat would put a once promising season into meltdown.