Jon Dunham - On-field issues at Poppies are in Dean’s safe pair of hands

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

The appointment of Dean Thomas as the new manager of Kettering Town wasn’t exactly a surprise.

It seems sensible that if someone of his experience is in and around things already, then you might as well utilise him in the best possible way.

And, given the current state of play at the Poppies, it strikes as an excellent decision by those who are still doing all they can to guide the club through rocky waters.

Thomas is every inch a safe pair of hands at the level Kettering are going to find themselves at next season – that would be in the depths of senior non-League football, just a step above the United Counties League and a far cry from where they were just two or three years ago.

He has been there and done it. In these modern times, any manager who is with a club for 16 seasons must have something about them and Thomas was the man who led Hinckley United through the divisions to become – up until this year at least – a well-established Blue Square Bet North team.

Ultimately, he knows what it will take to get Kettering back on course when it comes to on-field matters. His contacts book is most probably bursting at the seams and you would like to think that there will be players from around the midlands keen to play for him.

But perhaps the most telling thing about Thomas is that he has a connection with Kettering that dates all the way back to November 18, 1989 when he wasn’t exactly flavour of the month at Rockingham Road.

Thomas scored the only goal of the game as a sell-out crowd watched the Poppies lose to Northampton Town in the first round of the FA Cup – the last time the two teams met in a meaningful competition.

And since then, there have been numerous battles between him and the club, mainly from his days at Hinckley as a rivalry was established in the Conference North.

The point is that, even though he had never been part of Kettering until the back-end of the season just ended, he knows enough about it. He understands the job in front of him.

His first interview after taking the job spoke volumes. He is no fool. He fully understands the seriousness of the club’s situation at the moment but I can’t believe for a second that someone as wily as him would take the job on unless he thought the club actually had a future.

And it was refreshing to hear him talking about football and nothing else, that isn’t the way it has been for a long, long time.

There are (as if anyone needs reminding) many issues for Ritchie Jeune and others to sort out as they look to give their new manager a clear road ahead of the new campaign. If they can do that, then Thomas is more than capable of delivering on the pitch.

This is a club that needs galvanising, it needs to find itself again. And when you need to get back to basics, an experienced manager is the way to go. They really don’t come any more experienced than him.

It is very pleasing as well to see Thomas Baillie remain at the club. I could sit hear for ages and recall some of the conversations we have had over the past eight months or so. Some were great, some were in the darkest hours when both of us thought the club wouldn’t see another day.

For what he lacked in experience, he more than made for it in loyalty. Baillie, like him or not, stuck around for no money and fought for the club when many would have given up on it.

That alone makes him worthy of keeping a position but Thomas clearly believes he has a lot to offer and it will be interesting to see how their partnership develops with their roles reversed.

Time will, as ever, tell as to what the future holds for Kettering Town. You really never know what is going to happen next.

But for the time being, their supporters (and yes, I include those of you who won’t attend until they are back in the borough/or when Imraan Ladak has gone/or when they are out of the Nene Park lease or all three) can feel happy that the on-field issues are in a safe pair of hands, maybe even the safest pair of hands in non-League football.

As Thomas himself said: “It is a massive challenge and I am relishing it”. I wouldn’t bet against him getting it right, as long as the circumstances allow.