A tumultuous few days for Kettering Town ended in somewhat controversial fashion as FA Cup heroes Kidderminster Harriers secured a 1-0 win at Latimer Park.
It was actually a very decent midweek encounter under the lights, helped by an excellent atmosphere generated by a healthy following from Kidderminster and a rejuvenated Kettering fanbase, who were clearly excited by a new era under incoming manager Ian Culverhouse.
But the new boss will surely be hoping he won’t have to fight the odds for the rest of his tenure in the same manner in which his team did on this occasion.
Even before the game, the plans were thrown into limbo after the Poppies confirmed they had received and, clearly accepted, a bid for top scorer Callum Powell from an unnamed higher-ranked club.
Powell was at the game to bid his farewells after an excellent spell at Latimer Park.
But Kettering then went on to finish the game with centre-half Connor Johnson in goal after Rhys Davies suffered a nasty-looking injury when falling awkwardly late in the first half.
By that point, the Poppies were trailing but the threadbare squad had a real go after the break and thought they had snatched a well-deserved point late on when Jordon Crawford nodded in from close-range, only for the wild celebrations to be cut short by referee Greg Rollason who had spotted a handball by captain Connor Kennedy in the build-up - it seemed he was the only one to spot it.
There is, of course, work for Culverhouse to do. Without question, he needs to bring some fresh faces in to bulk the squad up.
But it will be a while before we see his influence on the style of play come to fruition, given that midweek matches are coming in droves over the next few weeks and opportunities to be on the training ground will be sparse.
Nonetheless, he will have been happy with the effort the players threw in and, on another day, they would have taken something from the game.
That’s not to take anything away from Kidderminster.
They knew a tricky evening was in front of them but their defensive display and game management, in the second half in particular, was straight out of the textbook as they maintain their push at the top end of the table while they will have, no doubt, given West Ham United first-team coach Stuart Pearce plenty to ponder as he watched on from the stands ahead of the FA Cup clash between non-League and Premier League in just over a week.
Kettering started brightly with Connor Kennedy forcing Luke Simpson into a decent near-post save.
But the visitors grabbed the only goal of the game after 14 minutes when the impressive Ashley Hemmings turned a fired in a shot which was well saved by Davies but the ball fell into the path of Amari Morgan-Smith who made no mistake from close-range.
Kettering, again, responded well with Jordon Crawford heading straight at Simpson before the home side’s plans changed again following that unfortunate injury to Davies as he came to collect a corner.
But the Poppies did a good job of ensuring Johnson had little to do as the second half developed into a pattern of Kettering dominating possession with Kidderminster holding firm.
For the most part, the Poppies just huffed and puffed until the dramatic finale.
Crawford raced away in celebration after nodding home but referee Mr Rollason stopped him in his tracks. Even now, it’s difficult to know how an infringement was spotted.
But Kettering continued to pile the pressure on and Simpson was the hero for Harriers with a superb point-blank save at the death to deny Decarrey Sheriff at the back post before on-loan defender Kevin Joshua headed wide from the resulting corner.
Harriers were able to celebrate what they felt was a good job done.
For the Poppies, the new era started here and continues at Darlington on Saturday but Culverhouse will feel there is, at least, something to work with after a sterling effort fell just short.
Kettering: Davies (sub Joshua, 41 mins); Cooper, Johnson, Calder (sub Conlon, 67 mins); Barrett, Stohrer, Sharpe (sub Milovanovic, 76 mins), Brown; Sheriff, Kennedy, Crawford. Sub not used: Stones.
Kidderminster: Simpson; Simpson; Foulkes, Preston, Lowe, Richards; Martin (sub Redmond, 31 mins), Montrose, Bajrami; Hemmings (sub Carrington, 88 mins); Morgan-Smith, Sterling (sub Dinanga, 65 mins). Subs not used: White, Emery.
Referee: Greg Rollason.
Goal: Morgan-Smith (14 mins, 0-1).
Booking: Foulkes (kicking the ball away).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Alex Brown - Kettering’s left-back has been a consistent performer since arriving at Latimer Park and he proved to be one of their biggest threats on this night. He showed plenty of energy, getting up and down the left-hand side and helping to create the wave of attacks during the second half. His long throws also helped pile the pressure on as the Poppies tried to find a way through.