COMMENT '“ Poppies' intentions are clear, now it's time to deliver

After a relatively low-key summer by Kettering Town's recent standards, the floodgates have opened as the new season dawns.

Friday, 5th August 2016, 2:00 pm
The pressure is on Kettering Town manager Marcus Law and his players to deliver promotion this season

Pre-season, it has to be said, panned out pretty much as expected.

After the disappointment of missing out on an Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division play-off place by just a single point last time out, Poppies boss Marcus Law was clear in his intentions to keep the squad together.

It’s something he has, aside from the departures of Herve Pepe-N’Goma and Will Grocutt, done.

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And why wouldn’t he? After all, having made significant changes to his squad at the start of November last year, Kettering showed title-winning form in the remainder of the campaign as they made a number of teams sweat before falling at the final hurdle.

There have been additions with returning midfielder Nathan Hicks and striker Sam Smith being the most high-profile arrivals while a flurry of further signings were confirmed just this week to bulk up the squad.

But the Poppies’ brilliant run last season has, without any question, brought with it a great deal of pressure for the manager and players this season.

The noises out of Latimer Park had been fairly quiet up until this week.

However, there’s no question about their intentions now with both the manager and chairman Ritchie Jeune admitting that promotion is the main aim. Indeed, Jeune went a step further and said that a play-off place would be the “minimum” requirement.

The Poppies are banking on the squad rediscovering that form from November onwards last season.

If they find it, they’ll go close – of that there can be no doubt.

But a scan of the teams in the Premier Division this season suggests it will be tough.

Basingstoke Town, who are full-time, and ambitious Hayes & Yeading United have both dropped down from National League South while the likes of Leamington, Hitchin Town and Redditch United will all be looking to better their play-off appearances last season.

Throw in Weymouth and big-spending King’s Lynn and you have seven other clubs at least who will surely fancy their chances.

Having listed those teams above, it possibly makes the first month even more crucial for Law and his players.

Tomorrow’s (Saturday) opener at Dorchester Town is followed by successive fixtures against Leamington, Hitchin and Redditch while they must also face Basingstoke and King’s Lynn before they even hit September.

There’s no question that their promotion credentials will be tested early on. Come through August with a respectable return and they will be in a strong position to mount a challenge.

Given the way my chat with the chairman panned out on Wednesday lunchtime, it was no real surprise to hear of his desire to see the club gain promotion this season.

No sooner had we finished talking about on-field matters, the conversation soon turned to the situation off the pitch and the ambitious draft plans he revealed for the redevelopment of Latimer Park.

There have, of course, been rumblings over the club getting back into the town – preferably at Rockingham Road.

But perhaps the key quote from Jeune when I was speaking to him was when he said: “You have to move forward with what you have got and it would be remiss of us to take a 25-year lease at Latimer Park and not make plans for the future.”

You have to hand it to him. Jeune has become a trusted chairman with the Poppies faithful and they have a big appreciation of his honesty and ambition.

The draft ideas for Latimer Park are ambitious, no question. But, like he said, this is what they have and now they must try to do something with it.

There will be more bumps in the road, I’m sure. The lack of support from the local council has been all-too evident in recent times, despite a concerted effort by Jeune and others to steady the waters.

Planning issues and consultation with local residents will, no doubt, determine whether these plans can become a reality.

But the fact they are even being discussed shows that Jeune and the club aren’t willing to stand still.

Time, as it always does, will tell on that front.

But should they finally be able to build themselves a home, Kettering will want to be at a good level to showcase it.

And so, it all comes back to tomorrow and the next eight months that will follow on.

Law and his players will be under the microscope.

The expectations from the board, fans and even the manager himself could not be clearer.

Time to deliver...

You can follow the exploits of Kettering Town throughout the season on this website, in the Northamptonshire Telegraph every Thursday and by following our football reporter Jon Dunham on Twitter @JonDunhamNT