VERDICT – Second-half show keeps Poppies on course

David Popa holds of a Stratford Town defender during Kettering Town's 3-1 win at Latimer Park. The youngster, who is on loan from Birmingham City, opened the scoring on his full debut. Pictures by Alison Bagley
David Popa holds of a Stratford Town defender during Kettering Town's 3-1 win at Latimer Park. The youngster, who is on loan from Birmingham City, opened the scoring on his full debut. Pictures by Alison Bagley

A fine second-half display ensured Kettering Town kept their pursuit of the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division play-off places on course as they saw off Stratford Town 3-1 at Latimer Park.

After a goalless first half, the Poppies clicked into gear and goals from David Popa, on his full debut, Spencer Weir-Daley and Wilson Carvalho, from the penalty spot, wrapped up another victory.

Stratford's Liam Francis clears James Brighton's shot off the line

Stratford's Liam Francis clears James Brighton's shot off the line

And with play-off rivals Leamington and, in particular Hitchin Town, suffering defeats, it proved to be a very good night to get back on track following the weekend draw with St Neots Town.

Marcus Law was forced into changes with Brett Solkhon ruled out due to a hamstring injury.

Chris Carruthers partnered Gary Mulligan in the centre of defence while Popa was handed his first start for the club alongside Rene Howe.

The Poppies had the first shot in anger when James Brighton curled a free-kick just wide.

Action from Kettering Town's 3-1 success over Stratford Town at Latimer Park

Action from Kettering Town's 3-1 success over Stratford Town at Latimer Park

But Stratford, who had been delayed by the accident on the A14 which resulted in an 8pm kick-off, created good chances of their own.

Craig Hill saved well from Dior Angus before Liam Francis headed the resulting corner just wide.

Visiting goalkeeper Andy Kemp was called into action as he pushed away a Howe strike and he then got half a hand to Brighton’s follow-up with Francis finishing things off by clearing the loose ball off the line.

The Poppies were dealt a blow before half-time when Howe was forced off with an injury and was replaced by Weir-Daley.

The second half started brightly with Weir-Daley being denied by Kemp before Hill produced a superb save to tip Mark Magee’s long-range effort over the crossbar.

And that proved crucial as the Poppies took the lead seven minutes later.

Brighton’s cross to the far post was knocked back into the danger area by Carvalho and Popa produced an exquisite backheel to finish from close-range.

And within eight minutes, it was 2-0 with Carvalho again being the provider.

His cross from the left was perfect for Weir-Daley and he adjusted his body brilliantly to glance a header into the far corner.

That should have ended the contest. But Stratford showed signs of life with Michael McGrath firing over before a golden chance fell to Angus who found himself in on goal with just Hill to beat but blasted high over the bar.

Kieren Westwood sent another warning shot over for the visitors but the game was over with eight minutes to go when Kettering grabbed their third.

A brilliant run from substitute Herve Pepe-N’Goma was ended when he was tripped by substitute Charlie Faulkner. A clear penalty and Carvalho made no mistake as he emphatically beat Kemp from 12 yards.

But, again, Stratford didn’t lie down and they pulled one back two minutes later when McGrath fired home from 15 yards after a corner had only been half-cleared.

They gave it a real go after that and Angus had a couple of efforts cleared off the line before the Poppies were able to see the game out without any further scares.

Job well and truly done. It’s a long old road towards the top five but the Poppies are really starting to make some progress ahead of an Easter double-header.

You just never know, do you?

Poppies: Hill; Cotton, Mulligan, Carruthers, Langdon; Carvalho, Grocott (sub Stephens, 73 mins), Canavan (sub Pepe-N’Goma, 63 mins), Brighton; Popa, Howe (sub Weir-Daley, 43 mins). Subs not used: Baker, McAlindon.

Stratford: Kemp; Moran, Delfouneso, Francis, Westwood; Angus, Roberts, McGrath, Sheldon; Magee, Gregory (sub Faulkner, 78 mins). Subs not used: Tulloch, Charles, Stringfellow, Fagan.

Referee: Akil Howson.

Goals: Popa (59 mins, 1-0), Weir-Daley (67 mins, 2-0), Carvalho pen (82 mins, 3-0), McGrath (84 mins, 3-1).

Bookings: Francis (foul).

Attendance: 467.