VERDICT – Poppies on the spot as spirited Steelmen are edged out

Kettering Town lift the Hillier Cup after their penalty shoot-out success over Corby Town at Sixfields. Pictures by Peter Short
Kettering Town lift the Hillier Cup after their penalty shoot-out success over Corby Town at Sixfields. Pictures by Peter Short

Kettering Town laid a ghost to rest as they held their nerve to edge out Corby Town and lift the NFA Hillier Senior Cup at Sixfields.

Almost 12 months earlier, the Poppies were undone by a late Jack Ashton header as they were beaten in the final by AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

James Brighton tucks home the winning penalty for the Poppies

James Brighton tucks home the winning penalty for the Poppies

And, for a while, it looked like their misery at the home of Northampton Town would continue.

Corby Town, under the guidance of former Poppies man Steve Kinniburgh for the first time following the sacking of Gary Mills at the weekend, were impressive for the most part.

While Kettering were fairly lacklustre for the first three-quarters of the game, the Steelmen were full of energy, quick to close their opponents down and then took the lead in spectacular fashion as the game burst into life in the second half.

But, to their credit, the Poppies responded well after falling behind and they were probably about worth their equaliser simply for the amount of pressure they put Corby under for the final 15 minutes or so.

Jason Lee had given Corby the lead with this fine strike on 65 minutes

Jason Lee had given Corby the lead with this fine strike on 65 minutes

The 1-1 draw led to an immediate penalty shoot-out, which was almost as entertaining as the game and, in the end, the Poppies just had the edge.

But it was Corby who looked the slicker of the two sides in what was a generally poor opening period.

Kettering went close when Nathan Hicks’ shot was deflected just wide before Dominic Langdon flicked a header off target.

But Corby created the best opening when the tireless Joe Iaciofano - playing on his home ground - produced a wonderful flick into the path of Connor Kennedy who curled his shot just too high from 18 yards.

Liam Canavan sent a fierce effort over in the early stages of the second half but it was the Steelmen who drew first blood in stunning fashion on 65 minutes.

A corner was half-cleared and the ball eventually found its way out to captain for the night Jason Lee who wasted no time in unleashing a stunning 25-yard strike that flew past Paul White.

Jordon Crawford, who was excellent for Corby, saw a shot deflect just wide off James Brighton but the Poppies gradually worked their way back into things.

Rene Howe, who was quiet by his standards, saw his shot hacked off the line by Kennedy before Aaron O’Connor’s rebound was deflected onto the crossbar before being cleared.

But that proved to be the warning shot and Kettering levelled with seven minutes to go when Howe beat Aidan Grant to the ball and he rolled it across goal for O’Connor to finish from a couple of yards.

The Poppies should have won it at the death when Grant turned O’Connor’s shot away for a corner from which Howe headed wide after being left unmarked.

But it went into penalties and Corby got their noses in front when Grant saved Howe’s poorly struck spot-kick.

White responded by stopping Danny Draper’s effort and a series of excellent penalties followed until, with the scores at 6-6, Lee stepped up and sent his penalty high and wide.

That left Brighton with the chance to win it and he duly sent Grant the wrong way to spark the celebrations from the Kettering contingent.

For the Poppies, that is their season done and dusted. They have three Southern League games left before heading for the beach.

But for Corby and Kinniburgh, there are bigger fish to fry as they have three games remaining to try to save themselves from the drop in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

And if they show the same levels of desire and effort as they did on this night despite the defeat, then they will still give themselves a chance...

Steelmen: Grant; Smith (sub Draper, 84 mins), Anton, Lee, Wildin; Crawford, Milnes, Kennedy, Leslie (sub Bell, 66 mins); Weir-Daley, Iaciofano (sub Trainer, 81 mins). Subs not used: Marshall, Parkes

Poppies: White; Bateman, Mulligan, Langdon, Kelly (sub Hall, h-t); Haran, Hicks (sub John, 71 mins), Brighton, Canavan (sub Hornby, 60 mins); Howe, A O’Connor. Subs not used: Baker, John, J O’Connor,

Referee: Ian Rathbone.

Goals: Lee (65 mins, 1-0), A O’Connor (83 mins, 1-1).

Penalty shoot-out: Milnes (scored, 1-0), A O’Connor (scored, 1-1), Crawford (scored, 2-1), Howe (missed, 2-1), Draper (missed, 2-1), Hornby (scored, 2-2), Bell (scored, 3-2), John (scored, 3-3), Weir-Daley (scored, 4-3), Hall (scored, 4-4), Trainer (scored, 5-4), Bateman (scored, 5-5), Wildin (scored, 6-5), Haran (scored, 6-6), Lee (missed, 6-6), Brighton (scored, 6-7).

Bookings: Smith (foul), A O’Connor (dissent).

Attendance: 830.