Kettering Town completed the league double over AFC Rushden & Diamonds with an Easter Monday success at Hayden Road.
But what did we learn?
Calm and professional, the Poppies did a decent job on derby day.
As Marcus Law has acknowledged himself, there hasn’t been anything too spectacular about the Poppies in the last couple of months. Ever since the finishing line came into sight, Law and his men have been all about business. Six clean sheets in their last 10 matches have held the key and while there have been setbacks along the way, they have gone into almost robotic form to get themselves over the line. And they were at it again at Hayden Road. It wasn’t thrill-seeking stuff but they kept the ball, they frustrated Diamonds and their supporters with some robust defending and, when they needed it, they came up with the real moment of quality that decided the game. Once they were in front, they never really looked like giving it up. It’s a solid and effective approach that has taken Kettering to the title.
Diamonds needed a response. They may not have got the result but the performance was there.
While taking something from their local rivals would have been satisfying, the main aim for Diamonds on Easter Monday was to provide a response. The club haven’t suffered many heavy defeats during the good times of rising up the leagues but the 5-0 defeat at Coalville Town last Saturday seemed to be a shock to the system. No matter who they were playing on Monday, Andy Peaks would have been demanding a response. And while it was Kettering who took the points, the Diamonds boss was happy with what he saw from his team. And so he should have been. That hard-work ethic that has become synonymous with Peaks’ teams was on show. They hustled and harried the Poppies, they defended particularly well and they didn’t give up. As Peaks observed afterwards, the result might not have been there but the pride was certainly restored.
It’s goals that count. Kettering took their big chance and Diamonds didn’t. That gives Andy Peaks food for thought.
Goals win games. The simple yet golden rule of football. On this day, chances were few and far between at both ends but it was the Poppies who had the clinical edge as they grabbed the only goal of the game. Lathaniel Rowe-Turner became the 19th different player to score for the club this season, a sure sign that it has been a collective effort that has taken them to promotion. Diamonds, on the other hand, are struggling for goals and it is a problem that played a big part in ending their play-off hopes. And it will give Andy Peaks food for thought during the summer. True, we know the budget isn’t there to bring in an established big name who will guarantee you 30-plus goals next season. And we know that free-scoring strikers don’t grow on trees. But Peaks has had no choice but to become something of a master at plucking good signings out of thin air. He’s done it with the likes of Zack Reynolds and Alex Collard who have been two stars of the season on the defensive front. For sure, he will be looking to weave a bit of magic in the transfer market to boost Diamonds’ frontline for the new campaign.
Lathaniel Rowe-Turner’s timing was impeccable.
As I scanned the official team-sheet before kick-off, looking for potential match-winners, I have to say Lathaniel Rowe-Turner’s name wasn’t one that immediately stood out. That’s not to be disrespectful to the player, who has played a good role in the Poppies’ successful campaign but not due to his goalscoring abilities! But there was nothing wrong with his cool finish after a neat move and his timing, from a Kettering point of view, couldn’t have been much better. This was the perfect stage to grab your first goal for the club and he rightly enjoyed every second of it.
One game remains for both clubs and both need a positive result as they head into the summer.
It’s hard to believe that we are heading into the final weekend of the season. It doesn’t seem five minutes since it started. And both Kettering and Diamonds can be extremely content with what they have done over the past eight months or so. The Poppies have achieved their main aim and met the expectations of their supporters and just about every other club in the division by winning the title. But they haven’t just won it, they have dominated proceedings and that will be as pleasing to Marcus Law than anything else. Talk budgets all you want, getting a team to go out and perform as consistently as Kettering have over the past two seasons is no easy task. But life will be hard for them in the Vanarama National League North as they take one of the biggest steps up there is in non-League football. There will, of course, be plenty of good feeling when they host Stratford Town in the last game on Saturday but a good result will only add to the momentum they’ll need once August rolls around. As far as Diamonds are concerned, I believe they have exceeded expectations this season. Having come up last year, they have adjusted very well to life at Step 3. They have been a match for every team, they had a real flirt with the play-off places and, ultimately, they look set for a top-10 finish. Every fan would have taken that if I had given it to them last August. They have an extremely tough final-day encounter at in-form Tamworth but Andy Peaks will be rallying his troops for one last effort. Win, and a top-eight finish will be secured and the feelgood factor that should exist at Hayden Road will be taken up a notch as we head into the summer.