VERDICT: All roads lead to Slough for promotion-hunting Poppies
All roads lead to Slough for Kettering Town after the regular Evo-Stik South League Premier season ended with a more than a hint of predictability.
With the play-off teams confirmed some time ago, all four of them went into the final day still unsure of where and who they would be playing in Wednesday night’s play-off semi-finals.
But, as they have done for the majority of the season, all four of them won to make it a case of ‘as you were’.
The Poppies will be on the road at Slough Town while King’s Lynn Town will host Weymouth in what could prove to be the most competitive play-offs in the division for some time.
As far as Kettering were concerned, a devastating second-half display saw them thrash Farnborough 6-2 at Latimer Park as they racked up a 19th home success of the campaign.
That record is enough to tell you that Marcus Law and his team would have probably preferred home advantage in the post-season, although any hopes of that were ended by the disappointing midweek home loss to Tiverton Town.
Kettering’s campaign will now be defined by what happens in the space of 90 or even 120 minutes at Arbour Park on Wednesday and in the play-off final on Bank Holiday Monday if they are good enough to get there.
But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on an excellent campaign which, in any other season, probably would have been good enough to take the title.
Thirty wins from 46 league matches, 19 home victories, an incredible 122 goals scored, a goal difference of plus 66 and 97 points - all good enough for fourth place!
The play-offs are the best way to go up and the worst way to lose out but, regardless of what happens over the next week, Law and his players can be proud of what they have done.
However, in the very competitive world of football, it will all count for little if they can’t go and finish the job.
They do, at least, have some momentum after this final-day success, although it may well have come at a cost with the Poppies sweating on the fitness of club legend Brett Solkhon.
He levelled things up from the spot in the first half but, in the process, appeared to injure his groin and had to be withdrawn. Such is his influence, Kettering will have everything crossed that he recovers in time for Wednesday.
His penalty, awarded after Farnborough goalkeeper Adam Bufton had fouled Lindon Meikle, only came after the visitors had stunned Kettering with an early opener when Michael Fernandes scored from close-range after a long throw had been flicked on.
But Kettering gradually grew into things and the returning Ben Toseland saw an effort deflected just over before the break while Farnborough’s Luke King was a touch fortunate to stay on the pitch after a dreadful challenge on Rhys Hoenes while the winger was in full flight.
However, the Poppies came out with purpose in the second half and, within 10 minutes, had opened up a 4-1 lead.
Top scorer Aaron O’Connor was back in the side and back doing what he does best as he applied the finishing touch to a Rene Howe cross a minute after the restart.
Mathew Stevens looped a shot into the far corner for 3-1 before O’Connor added his second with his left-footed shot past Bufton being too good for a covering defender on the line.
Four became five when Stevens got the final touch after Orrin Pendley had flicked on a Toseland free-kick.
Farnborough did pull one back when King stabbed home from close-range after a set-piece had only been half-cleared.
But it was Stevens who had the final say. The young Peterborough United striker has enjoyed a superb campaign on loan at Latimer Park and he rounded it off by completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot after he’d been dragged back by King in front of goal.
The final job of the regular campaign proved to be a fairly straightforward one for the Poppies.
And now the real business starts.
Two games to try to seal promotion, the first of which is against a team they have a bit of play-off history with.
See you in Slough...
Poppies: White; Pendley, Mulligan, Solkhon (sub Howe, 27 mins); Thomas, Richens, Meikle (sub Milnes, 76 mins), Toseland; Hoenes, Stevens, O’Connor (sub Stohrer, 83 mins). Subs not used: Bateman, Carvalho.
Farnborough: Bufton; King, Bartley, Oseni, Ferrell; Omrore (sub Buckley, 61 mins), Fearn, Campbell (sub Holland, 85 mins), Cunningham; Fernandes, Callcutt.
Referee: Sarah Garratt.
Goals: Fernandes (7 mins, 0-1), Solkhon pen (27 mins, 1-1), O’Connor (46 mins, 2-1), Stevens (52 mins, 3-1), O’Connor (55 mins, 4-1), Stevens (65 mins, 5-1), King (72 mins, 5-2), Stevens pen (83 mins, 6-2).
Bookings: Oseni, King (both fouls).