Kettering Town 1 Bradford (Park Avenue) 0 - The Talking Points

Kettering Town kicked off the new Vanarama National League North season with a 1-0 victory over Bradford (Park Avenue).

Sunday, 15th August 2021, 7:00 am
Claudio Ofosu sends Bradford (Park Avenue) goalkeeper Johnny Saltmer the wrong way from the penalty spot for what proved to be the winning goal in Kettering Town's opening-day success at Latimer Park. Pictures by Peter Short

Reporter Jon Dunham highlights some talking points as the new-look Poppies welcomed their fans back to Latimer Park with three points.

Everyone wants a positive start and Kettering, just about, delivered one

Just don’t get beaten.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It was a good day for manager Paul Cox as his team made a winning start

I’ve always felt that is the main aim for every team across the country when they kick-off a new season.

The opening game can set the tone for the long weeks and months that follow and if you can start with a positive result, preferably a win, then it immediately gives you something to build on.

In the build-up to this game, numerous people asked me what I expected from Kettering Town this season. The truth is, I wasn’t sure and, to an extent, I’m still not.

But they got off to the best possible start with three points and a clean sheet on home soil.

Claudio Ofosu grabbed the only goal of the game on his league debut for the Poppies

They had to work hard for it. It wasn’t a perfect display by any means but they got the goal and then really dug in towards the end when they came under pressure.

The boxes for the first day of this long campaign were all ticked.

This is a very young side, they now have a little idea of what’s in store for them

Paul Cox warned everyone that the Kettering side that took the field on the opening day would be young and he certainly wasn’t lying.

Goalmouth action during Kettering's 1-0 success

I know for a fact that the manager is continuing his search for a couple more experienced heads to balance things out, just to ensure that this group of youngsters have that extra bit of guidance.

But, for the time being, these boys (yes, some of them are boys) are getting an immediate insight to the upper echelons of non-League football and they will have gained plenty of knowledge from their first experience of it.

There were mistakes. There always will be. But there was energy, there was a pattern of play and there seemed to be a plan, which the manager and his staff must also take a lot of credit for.

Most of all, there was discipline, organisation and some real guts on show as they battled away to secure all three points.

The average age of the starting XI was somewhere around the 23 years old mark.

The manager is putting his faith in them and is asking the fans to do the same. And, on this opening day, the youngsters let no-one down.

There were some standout performances worthy of a mention

As ever, there were some individuals worthy of singling out for extra praise.

Callum Powell was, arguably, the best player on the pitch.

We saw enough of him in the curtailed 2020-21 campaign to know what he is capable of and he seems to have hit the ground running this season.

He has pace, he has skill, he has strength. What’s not to like? When he gets the ball, things come alive and he was the catalyst for a lot of what the Poppies did right going forward.

Claudio Ofosu impressed on the other wing, winning and converting the penalty for the winning goal on debut and, behind them, the ever dependable Gary Stohrer marshalled the midfield alongside the classy-looking Harrison Neal who has joined on loan from Sheffield United.

The back three, which surely must have been the youngest defensive unit in the league on the opening weekend, also performed admirably.

The standout in there, perhaps, was Max Dyche who is spending the first two months of the season on loan from Northampton Town.

The centre-half was good in the air and showed decent ability with the ball at feet as well.

And, late on, he suffered a cut that left him bleeding quite heavily. He was patched up, changed his shirt and rejoined the action to help see things out. So, he’s a warrior as well. A chip off the old block, you might say....

The fans are back and they showed some patience with this inexperienced team

It’s been a big weekend for football fans across the country as they returned en masse to grounds for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

It’s easy to forget how important football clubs mean to these people and you could sense a real sense of euphoria around Latimer Park as the turnstiles began to tick over.

An attendance of 762 was respectable and higher than I expected, given the time of year, the fact the pandemic is still ongoing and the fact that people might have just found other things to do with their Saturdays over the past few months.

And there was a positive vibe on the terraces as well.

No-one has lied to the Poppies supporters, they had an idea of how young and inexperienced this team would be.

And, with that said, there were far less moans and groans when passes went astray and obvious mistakes were made.

There seemed to be a real awareness that this is the start of a work in progress and the returning supporters deserve a bit of credit for showing positivity and patience with a young group.

Big tests lie ahead, not least at Gateshead next weekend

The Kettering players have, rightly, taken the praise for beginning the season on a winning note and they should enjoy all of that.

But the fact is much bigger tests do lie ahead, not least next Saturday.

The Poppies make the long trip north to take on Gateshead who are full-time and will, no doubt, be looking for another play-off push.

It will now be Gateshead’s first game of the season after their scheduled clash at Leamington was postponed due to Covid-19 cases in the Leamington squad and they will be looking to make a fast start in front of their own fans.

The surroundings and pitch will be different and it will be fascinating to see how well these Poppies players cope against a team who could well be there or thereabouts when May rolls around.