“We’ve just matched the champions in three games,” said Ks manager Alan Dowson after once again watching his side come away with nothing against Whitehawk, the Ryman Premier League’s champions elect.

The Hawks, laden with ex-professionals, may be destined for the title but it was raw youth which so nearly gave Kingstonian a redemptive win on Saturday, before familiar defensive errors let the team from Sussex steal a 3-2 victory.

Sami El-Abd gave the visitors the lead in the 36th minute, heading in unmarked from a corner.

Just as a bright Ks display looked like dulling, young Luke Wanadio equalised before the break, cutting in from the left-wing and driving a right-foot shot in the far corner.

Then, after fine work by 17-year-old striker Jamil Okai, fellow teenager Daniel Sweeney fired a 25-yard curler past Chris Winterton at the old Kingston Road End, a candidate for goal of the season.

It was 2-1 with only 30 minutes remaining and, with Margate losing elsewhere, a late play-off charge was on the cards.

But calamitous mistakes at the back allowed Whitehawk’s Joe Keehan and Mike Malcolm to score with soft opportunities.

Having already been denied a 2-0 win at The Enclosed Ground due to floodlight failure, and losing the replayed fixture, Ks will be happy to see the back of Whitehawk, who are now odds-on to be playing in the Blue Square South come August.

But Dowson was full of praise for one Hawk player – former Millwall and Palace defender Matt Lawrence – who, at 38 years old, marshalled his team with authority and example.

“Matt Lawrence, who’s probably as old as me, puts his head in at a corner where some people wouldn’t put their foot in,” said Dowson.

“But we don’t have anybody who’ll do that, so we concede from two corners and a cross in. Apart from that, we were outstanding and had the better chances.”

The brave emergence of young talent may well save this season for Kingstonian.

“Dan Sweeney’s a great find,” Dowson said of the former AFC Wimbledon midfielder who joined two weeks ago as Ks looked to rebuild after a dismal run of defeats.

“The young lads who’ve come in have done well. A breath of fresh air. The old lot have been the same. Look at the goals we’re conceding.”

Tonight Ks host Hastings United who, despite their FA Cup heroics, are deep in relegation danger.