Kettering Town’s charge towards the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division play-off places continued with a thoroughly deserved 3-1 win over Dunstable Town at Latimer Park.
Two goals from David Popa and a late effort from Brett Solkhon sealed another three points as the Poppies extended their unbeaten run to nine matches.
But more importantly, it moved them back to within reach of the top five as they bid for a second successive promotion.
It was fitting that such a key game should come on the one-year anniversary of their Division One Central title success.
And Thursday night football proved to be very decent indeed as an impressive first-half display set them up for a crucial win.
The Poppies were without striker Spencer Weir-Daley but Marcus Law was able to name an otherwise full-strength squad.
And they wasted little time in taking control of the game as a bright start was rewarded inside five minutes.
Birmingham City youngster showed good composure as the ball bounced up for him and he coolly lobbed a header over Bartosz Pedrycz and into the far corner.
That set the tone for the majority of the remainder of the opening half as the Poppies knocked the ball around with plenty of confidence.
The lead, and Popa’s tally, was doubled on 15 minutes as the frontman skipped past a challenge instead of passing to Wilson Carvalho and it was the right choice as he planted a low shot into the bottom corner.
Rene Howe and Solkhon both headed off target while Carvalho had a decent effort blocked as the hosts chased a third that would have killed things off.
Little was seen of Dunstable as an attacking force, although Mark Smith’s goalbound header was blocked before the break.
It looked like a similar theme was developing after half-time as the Poppies started on the front foot.
But Dunstable got themselves back into the game on 54 minutes when Chris Vardy slotted the ball under Craig Hill, despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to it.
Howe headed over from substitute Chris Carruthers’ free-kick as Kettering looked for an immediate response.
And the striker had a big chance to make it 3-1 when he got clean through on goal, went round Pedrycz but saw his shot bounce off the post after he checked back inside.
Things got a bit tense around the ground after that but Kettering dealt with things defensively and then grabbed the crucial third with six minutes to go.
Liam Canavan’s fine free-kick hit the inside of the post and then struck the diving Pedrycz. But as the ball rolled along the goal-line, Solkhon reacted the quickest to stab it home to a roar of relief from the Poppies faithful.
Job done. The first of five matches in just nine days, which will surely decide Kettering’s fate, was won.
And so, off they go to Chesham United on Saturday. Confidence is high, the form is good and the Poppies are on the charge.
As far as the play-off race is concerned, it’s most definitely game on.
Poppies: Hill; Bateman, Mulligan (sub Carruthers, 55 mins), Solkhon, Langdon; Carvalho (sub Stephens, 80 mins), Pepe-N’Goma, Canavan (sub Grocott, 86 mins), Brighton; Howe, Popa. Subs not used: Cotton, Obeng.
Dunstable: Pedrycz; Hall, Kaloczi (sub Leslie, 85 mins), Pepera, Okito (sub Reynolds, h-t); Longe-King; Wharton, Wales (sub Roache, 61 mins), Smith, Vardy; Edwards. Subs not used: Wylie, Talbot.
Referee: Robbie Dadley.
Goals: Popa (5 mins, 1-0), Popa (15 mins, 2-0), Vardy (54 mins, 2-1), Solkhon (84 mins, 3-1).
Bookings: Okito, Kaloczi, Howe (all fouls), Pepera (unsporting behaviour).