VERDICT – Poppies strike in the nick of time to keep their dreams alive

Kettering Town manager Marcus Law

Kettering Town manager Marcus Law

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It’s nights like these that make you wonder whether there is something written in the stars for Kettering Town this season.

For 87 minutes, it was one big struggle for the Poppies at Latimer Park.

Having claimed three wins in a row, the latter of which had seen them hit four first-half goals at Cambridge City, hopes were high for the first of seven successive home matches.

But for a long time, it looked like being another one of those days for Marcus Law’s team.

Injury-hit – Rene Howe being ruled out and captain Brett Solkhon forced off at half-time – and out of sorts, the Poppies looked like they would slip up again against another of the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division strugglers.

But just when another obituary of their play-off hopes was being penned, Kettering warmed the hearts of the 400-odd souls.

Liam Canavan sparked the celebrations by hitting the most precious of goals with just two minutes to go and that was quickly followed by another from young striker Silvano Obeng, who had been drafted into the squad due to Howe’s absence.

Whether the Poppies do have enough to finish in the top five remains to be seen.

But their desire can’t be called into question after their late show in this one.

To their credit, relegation-threatened Paulton Rovers worked extremely hard.

They closed Kettering down quickly and ensured the chances created were few and far between.

But just when they needed it the most, the Poppies came good.

They struggled to get going in a poor first half and it took them nearly half-an-hour to register a meaningful attempt on goal when Will Grocott’s half-volley was held by visiting goalkeeper Ben John.

And it was Paulton who created the best chance of the half when Solomon Wheatley’s pass found Mario Mateus and he turned Brett Solkhon before shooting over.

Solkhon departed at the break due to a hamstring problem with Chris Carruthers replacing him and things didn’t improve in a slow start to the second half.

Law threw on Obeng in place of defender Dominic Langdon in a positive move and Kettering gradually began to put some pressure on the visitors.

Canavan’s volley was deflected wide and then, from the resulting corner, Obeng also saw a shot go just off target with the aid of a defender’s touch.

It didn’t look like it was going to happen but then, with three minutes remaining, Kettering came alive.

Will Grocott’s shot was blocked after good work from Perry Cotton.

But from the corner that followed, the breakthrough came. James Brighton delivered it, Canavan’s header was blocked but he reacted quickest to hammer home the loose ball.

And one quickly brought two as, in their very next attack, Obeng converted at the near post after good work from Spencer Weir-Daley.

It wasn’t pretty, far from it. But the job was eventually done.

And if the Poppies continue to show the same battling qualities in the remainder of the campaign then anything could happen.

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Poppies: Hill; Cotton, Mulligan, Solkhon (sub Carruthers, h-t), Langdon (sub Obeng, 57 mins); Carvalho (sub Stephens, 77 mins), Pepe-N’Goma, Grocott, Brighton; Canavan, Weir-Daley. Subs not used: Baker, Danquah.

Paulton Rovers: John; Ricketts, Grimshaw, Ford, Felix; O’Hare, Manford; Jeanne, Douglas, Wheatley (sub Knighton, 44 mins); Mateus. Subs not used: Powell, Allan.

Referee: Nick Hobbis.

Goals: Canavan (88 mins, 1-0), Obeng (90 mins, 2-0).

Attendance: 408.