An impressive second-half display helped send Kettering Town back to the top of the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central as they laid a ghost to rest by beating Barton Rovers 3-2 at Latimer Park.
The Poppies eventually took full advantage of one of the games in hand over the teams around them as they saw off a Barton team who were the only club to do the double over them last season.
But while their second-half display was convincing enough, there were plenty of question marks over what happened in the first period.
After an early delay due to a floodlight failure, Kettering struggled against a hard-working Barton side and fell behind before Jason Lee headed them level before the break.
But whatever was said at half-time worked as Elliot Sandy scored his third goal in three games since returning to the club just 44 seconds after the restart before Andy Hall hit what proved to be the winner.
There were still some nervous moments towards the end after Barton pulled another goal back.
But, in the end, the Poppies did enough to move two points clear at the top of the table ahead of Saturday’s home clash with fourth-placed Godalming Town.
Joint-bosses Thomas Baillie and Scott Machin made two changes to the team that started the 3-2 FA Trophy defeat at Mickleover Sports at the weekend with Tommy Hull coming straight back into the side along with Andy Gooding as James Jepson and Ash Robinson made way.
There was also a surprise on the substitutes’ bench with Avelino Vieira, who is on a dual registration with UCL club Peterborough Northern Star after training with the Poppies in pre-season, named in the squad.
Unfortunately, there was a false start as, for the second time this season, the Latimer Park floodlights failed and the ground was plunged into darkness with just 25 seconds on the clock.
Thankfully, the situation was salvaged and after a break of 24 minutes, the match resumed at a fairly frantic pace.
And it was the visitors who settled the better as they pressed the Poppies up the pitch and looked lively going forward.
Kev Kilroy sent a free-kick from a useful position high over the bar while there were also a couple of nervous moments from set-pieces.
But Kettering did finally show some signs of life and Dubi Ogbonna dragged a shot wide before Claudiu Hoban, on his home debut, was just off target after a nice bit of trickery got him past a couple of defenders.
However, the Poppies were far too careless in possession as Barton continued to press them.
And it cost them just past the half-hour when the ball was given away and picked up by Keshi Anderson who advanced forward and blasted past Jamie McAlindon.
It could have been worse when Mahmut Caglar curled a free-kick just over the bar.
But Kettering finally woke up as the half came to a close.
Ogbonna rattled the outside of the post after jinking past a defender but the Poppies did draw level just two minutes later.
Hoban sent an excellent free-kick towards the far post and Lee finished things off with a firm header.
Kilroy was just off target for the visitors as his shot curled wide of the post before the break but it was the Poppies who came out firing in the second period.
Just 44 seconds had gone after the restart when Hall skipped down the left and drove a low cross into Sandy. And he produced a lovely turn and finish into the far corner.
The Poppies went for the throat and Kyle Foster denied Ogbonna and James Clifton in quick succession before Sandy struck the base of the post with a superb first-time volley.
But the third did arrive in style on 56 minutes when Hall cut in from the left and delayed his shot before finally unleashing a fierce strike, which flew past the helpless Foster.
Hull flicked a header just wide from a Hoban cross but a nervous finale was ensured when Barton pulled a goal back with eight minutes to go.
The Poppies had looked fairly comfortable but substitute Ricky Young brilliant curled a shot into the top corner to throw some doubt into the minds.
There were no further scares, however, as Kettering saw the game out to make an immediate return to the summit.
Poppies: McAlindon; Clifton, Lee, Solkhon, Kinniburgh; Hoban, Hull, Gooding (sub Robinson, 72 mins), Hall; Sandy, Ogbonna (sub Taylor, 84 mins). Subs not used: Vieira, Jepson, Bukasa.
Barton Rovers: Foster; McDevitt, Gatti, Andrews, Dillon; Sawyer, Kilroy, Lee, Hassan (sub Young, 69 mins); Caglar (sub Vincent, 75 mins), Anderson. Subs not used: Ottaway, Keating, Condon.
Referee: Matthew Smith.
Goals: Anderson (31 mins, 0-1), Lee (41 mins, 1-1), Sandy (46 mins, 2-1), Hall (56 mins, 3-1), Young (82 mins, 3-2).
Bookings: Gooding, Gatti, McDevitt, Ogbonna (all fouls), Sandy (dissent).
Don’t miss full reaction and a preview of the Poppies’ weekend game in Thursday’s Northamptonshire Telegraph