COMMENT '“ Poppies have plenty to build on after season of two halves
A season of two halves if ever there was one!
Anyone who has followed the fortunes of Kettering Town in recent times should know by now that it’s always best to expect the unexpected.
And another campaign of ups and downs so nearly ended with the Poppies sneaking into the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division play-offs.
It was hard to know what to expect back in August as Marcus Law returned to the club after a different path was chosen following an emphatic Division One Central title success.
Joint-bosses Thomas Baillie and Scott Machin were, somewhat harshly in the opinion of some, asked to re-apply for the job as the Poppies seeked just one boss to lead them forward.
Law was eventually appointed fairly late in the day and, with the majority of the title-winning squad, having already flown the nest, he faced a tricky job to build his squad in time for the season opener at the previous season’s runners-up Poole Town.
What followed for the next three months was a model of inconsistency. The Poppies won one, they lost one, they won two, they lost two etc etc.
Frustration quickly built on the terraces, especially as good opportunities to progress in both the FA Cup and FA Trophy were squandered.
With Kettering lodged in mid-table and seemingly going nowhere, the season turned on November 7 when they were beaten 2-0 at struggling Bideford.
A crazy 24 hours followed with the suggestion being that Law had tendered his resignation. Instead, the club backed him, he stayed on and within the space of a fortnight, it was all change.
Lots left, lots came in with Law swooping for the likes of Wilson Carvalho and Herve Pepe-N’Goma and later Paul Walker and Spencer Weir-Daley who all won the title the previous season with Corby Town.
Throw in the surprise return of Rene Howe and the addition of youngster Ben Stephens from Oadby Town and, all of sudden, the Poppies were on to a winner.
Their form between the middle of November and the end of April was, in general, outstanding.
Their progress was hampered, however, by the pitch at Latimer Park and while what happened before November was undoubtedly the main problem, the three-and-a-bit week period when they were without a game during January proved to be decisive.
Always playing catch up, the new-look Poppies squad certainly made those who looked comfortable at the top end of the table sweat.
And that was the case right up until the final day when they won 4-1 at Dorchester Town but were denied a top-five finish as Leamington got the point they needed in a 0-0 draw with Hungerford Town.
This time, it wasn’t to be. But there is always a next time.
Expectations will be sky-high at Latimer Park next season and why shouldn’t they be?
If Law is able to retain the vast majority of the squad and add in the right areas, their form over the second half of the season would suggest a promotion challenge will be on the cards.
It is, of course, never that simple.
But with an impressive mix of youth and experience and some seriously talented players – the likes of Stephens and James Brighton spring to mind – on show, Law is already aware that the pressure will be on by the time August rolls around.
Perhaps, however, the final word should be on the off-field situation.
Late on in the season, it was confirmed that a new 25-year lease to remain at Latimer Park had been agreed while there remains a clear vision to try to bring the club back home at some stage, maybe even at Rockingham Road.
That’s all for the future but chairman Ritchie Jeune and others behind the scenes deserve a lot of credit for bringing some much-needed stability.
It gives Kettering something to work on and gives them the opportunity to have a real go at promotion next season.
It’s intriguingly poised…