Kettering Town assured themselves of a play-off place in the Calor League Division One Central as they completed the double over county rivals and title-chasing Daventry Town with a 2-0 success at a packed Latimer Park.
Over 1,200 were on hand to watch Dean Thomas’ side produced a fine second-half performance as goals from Elliot Sandy and Dubi Ogbonna in the final 18 minutes secured a priceless victory.
Barton Rovers were beaten 2-0 at Rugby Town and Slough Town went down 3-1 at Aylesbury. Those results coupled with the Poppies’ victory secured them a top-five finish and an outside chance of winning the whole thing, although that remains an unlikely outcome.
Either way, after losing six of the first 10 matches, it has been a remarkable effort from Thomas and his players and they finally showed their quality in this one after riding their luck during a disappointing first half.
Thomas made one change to the team that won 3-0 at Aylesbury United on Saturday with Josh Moreman returning to the starting line-up with top scorer Ogbonna dropping to the bench.
Daventry were without midfielder Adam Confue due to an ankle injury and striker Tom Berwick due to work commitments but Marcel Simpson returned and Scott Cross was included on the bench, despite suffering from back spasms.
But it was the visitors who made the brighter start and that was a theme that continued for the whole of the first half as they were unlucky not to go in at the break in front.
The Poppies looked nervy in the opening period and, aside from a James Jepson header late in the half which went wide, they created nothing while passes went astray on numerous occasions.
There were no such problems for the visitors and Ryan Howell headed an early corner over before being denied by Andy Gooding’s goal-line clearance after the Daventry man produced an excellent overhead-kick.
Howell went even closer when his low shot cannoned off the post as the Poppies continued to live dangerously.
Howell dragged an effort wide towards the end of the half before Alastair Worby saved from Luke Keen.
The Poppies needed to be a lot better and they were as they could have taken the lead soon after the restart.
Sandy got clear of the Daventry defence, his shot was well parried by Richard Morris and only some heroic defending prevented Josh Moreman from finishing it off from the rebound.
But the visitors responded and Keen dragged an effort wide after going clear before they were out of luck again three minutes later.
This time Josh O’Grady found space on the left of the area. He did everything right by lofting the ball over Worby but couldn’t believe it as it came back off the inside of the post before Jon Bukasa cleared.
Thomas threw on Ogbonna and, within three minutes of his arrival, Kettering made the breakthrough.
Jonathon Thorpe sent over a deep cross from the right. It was flicked on and Sandy was there to finish it off with an excellent header at the far post.
James Clifton was immediately needed to produce a brilliant last-ditch challenge at the other end as Howell shaped to shoot.
But that was as close as the visitors would come before the end. And Kettering finished the game off in emphatic style with three minutes to go.
A long ball was sent up field and Ogbonna raced clear of the visiting defence before beating Morris with a devastating finish across the goal.
The huge crowd went mad and they were delighted further when news of Barton’s defeat filtered through.
The Poppies’ season will be extended by a further week at the very least while Daventry will be aiming to recover to take a step closer to the title with their game in hand at Egham Town on Wednesday.
Poppies: Worby; Clifton, Eze, Kinniburgh, Bukasa; Thorpe, Gooding (sub Hamilton, 89 mins), Jepson (sub Osei-Siribour, 85 mins), Logan, Moreman (sub Ogbonna, 69 mins); Sandy. Subs not used: Fuller, Hull.
Daventry: Morris; Wilkinson, Dolman, Simpson, James; Husband, Howell; Oulton (sub Cross, 76 mins), O’Grady, Keen (sub Beckley, 76 mins); Blake. Subs not used: Deeney, Gould, Sanders.
Referee: David Avent.
Goals: Sandy (72 mins, 1-0), Ogbonna (87 mins, 2-0).
Bookings: O’Grady, Wilkinson (both fouls).