VERDICT – Poppies’ season looks to be done and dusted

Marcus Law gives out instructions during Kettering Town's 3-1 home defeat to Merthyr Town. Pictures by Peter Short
Marcus Law gives out instructions during Kettering Town's 3-1 home defeat to Merthyr Town. Pictures by Peter Short
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It’s always dangerous to rule anything out and write anyone off but Kettering Town’s Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division campaign looks to be done and dusted.

Merthyr Town maintained their own push at the top end of the table with a 3-1 victory at Latimer Park and, in the process, they showed the difference between a team who will probably make the play-offs and one that, sadly, won’t.

Curtis McDonald scores Merthyr's first goal

Curtis McDonald scores Merthyr's first goal

The Welsh side were a strong unit, they made limited mistakes and they were ruthless with the chances they created. In truth, on this day, they were everything that the Poppies weren’t.

The mathematics will tell you Kettering’s hopes of finishing in the top five are far from over. But the same mathematics will also tell you they could still be relegated.

In the world of reality, the season is over.

They are 19 points clear of the relegation zone and 11 points off the play-off places with 17 games to go. Add it all together and they find themselves in a place commonly known as mid-table mediocrity.

Action from Latimer Park

Action from Latimer Park

And with that being the case, the spotlight is inevitably going to fall on Marcus Law and his position which has come under scrutiny numerous times already this season.

The target back in August was made crystal clear. Promotion was the aim for the club’s board. The reality is that the Poppies are going to fall short. In fact, they are set to finish lower than last season. It has, so far, been a step backwards.

They haven’t had luck at times but in general they have created their own downfall and this, their 10th defeat of the league season, summed things up perfectly as they shot themselves in the foot and were punished for it.

Hopes were high ahead of the game. The general consensus was that Law’s men had produced their best 42 minutes of football when they led 1-0 at Leamington last Tuesday before the lights went out.

But, in their typical inconsistent fashion, the Poppies failed to take that into the next game and their fate was effectively sealed inside the first 15 minutes.

They actually started quite brightly and Matthew Barnes-Homer shot off target from Liam Canavan’s pass before Merthyr struck with two goals in the space of seven devastating minutes.

Curtis McDonald, a giant of a centre-half, was left unmarked to score from a corner to open the scoring and the Poppies defence went missing again when Ryan Prosser found Eliot Richards who beat Paul White with a low strike to make it 2-0.

Kettering’s best move of the half saw Nathan Hicks exchange passes with Canavan before forcing Oliver Davies into his first save.

But White produced a moment of brilliance to ensure the game wasn’t over before half-time.

Richards couldn’t have caught the ball any better as he unleashed a superb volley towards the top corner but the Poppies goalkeeper threw himself full length to produce a stunning save as he tipped the shot onto the crossbar.

Kettering did come out with renewed vigour after the break and Barnes-Homer had the ball in the net but was denied by an offside flag before Davies got down to save Dominic Langdon’s header and Canavan sent a 25-yard strike just wide.

Law’s decision to take Hicks off was met with boos by the home faithful as Aaron O’Connor entered the fray but the Kettering fans were soon celebrating as their team pulled one back.

Wilson Carvalho’s low cross to the far post found Rene Howe and he and a visiting defender bundled the ball towards goal with the referee and assistant eventually agreeing it had crossed the line, much to the fury of the Merthyr players.

With a spring in their step, Kettering poured forward and Canavan’s effort came off the crossbar before Davies just about held on to a speculative long-range shot from Howe.

But a moment of defensive suicide settled the contest.

Merthyr’s attacking threat had been pretty much non-existent in the second half but James Haran’s failure to clear his lines was followed by a loose backpass from Langdon and it allowed substitute Corey Jenkins a free run on goal and he coolly slotted the ball under White to wrap things up.

There was no way back after that and the flat finish to the game summed up the atmosphere as the Kettering fans made their way to the gates.

Referring back to the opening paragraph of this report, it is always dangerous to rule anything out or to write anyone off.

But a season that promised much has ultimately delivered little and, from here, it will more than likely just peter out. I hope I’m wrong, I stand to be corrected...

Poppies: White; Bateman, Mulligan, Haran, Langdon; Hicks (sub O’Connor, 62 mins, sub Wilson, 76 mins), Canavan (sub Solkhon, 76 mins), Brighton, Howe; Carvalho, Barnes-Homer. Subs not used: Kelly, Snedker.

Merthyr: O Davies; A Davies, Tancock, McDonald, Barrow; Evans, Traylor (sub Watkins, 82 mins), Reffell, Richards (sub Patten 65 mins); McLaggon (sub Jenkins, 65 mins), Prosser. Subs not used: Williams, Copp.

Referee: Dean Appleby.

Goals: McDonald (8 mins, 0-1), Richards (15 mins, 0-2), Howe (67 mins, 1-2), Jenkins (76 mins, 1-3).

Bookings: Tancock (dissent), Haran (foul).

Attendance: 493.