I’d guess that had a straw poll been taken from those associated with Kettering Town and those from the outside looking in back in August last year, then many would have feared/assumed a battle against the drop in a tough-looking Vanarama National League North would have been on the cards.
The two previous campaigns which, of course, weren’t completed due to the Covid-19 pandemic would have suggested as much.
And, as Paul Cox assembled a young squad for the campaign, there was a genuine feeling that the season could literally go one way or the other.
A lot of water has now gone under the bridge as far as Cox is concerned and we’ll come to that.
However, with one of the smallest budgets in the division, he ended up putting together a squad that would, with the help of a couple of excellent loan signings, exceed all expectations.
A solid start, which included a noteworthy 2-0 win at Gloucester City, had the Poppies up there in the top 10 during the first couple of months with Callum Powell leading the charge with a series of outstanding displays which would ultimately lead to him earning a deserved move to Southend United later on as the Poppies received a fee for a player for the first time in a long time.
There was, also, a long overdue decent run in the Emirates FA Cup as Kettering got past Spalding United and league rivals Leamington to set up a shot at reaching the first round proper.
It was eventual Northern Premier League champions Buxton who stood in their way and, perhaps, if there is one regret Kettering will have about their season it was that they were unable to finish the job when 2-0 up at home in the fourth qualifying round clash.
Buxton hit back to level in the dying moments and then won the resulting replay after extra-time.
It was a bitter blow at the time which was followed by an enforced break due to Covid within the squad and it resulted in the Poppies stumbling in the league before they finished 2021 and started 2022 impressively with a 4-0 victory at Leamington being followed by an impressive 3-1 home success over Northamptonshire rivals Brackley Town on January 2.
But then, having moved up to eighth after a 3-0 home victory over Curzon Ashton, the landscape changed on January 21 with the shock news that Cox had resigned to pave the way for him to take over as manager at Boston United.
It happened just hours before Kettering were due to play at Bradford (Park Avenue) with Luke Graham and the ever-loyal Alan Doyle being thrust into the dugout to oversee things in what ended up being a dramatic 2-1 defeat.
Off the field, the Poppies acted quickly and just 24 hours after that loss, former King’s Lynn manager Ian Culverhouse had been appointed as Cox’s successor.
It looked and would prove to be a savvy move from the Kettering hierarchy and when the Poppies ended Southport’s impressive unbeaten run on the first day of February, there was growing belief that a play-off place could be achieved.
In a rollercoaster of a season, it seemed a 3-2 defeat at Cox’s Boston would be their downfall, not necessarily because of the result but because impressive Mansfield Town loanee George Cooper was injured while both Gary Stohrer and Connor Johnson were sent-off, meaning key players would be missing for key games that followed.
Respective 2-1 and 4-0 losses at Spennymoor Town and Chester had many feeling any hopes of a play-off bid were over but, again, the Poppies struck back and they would lose just once more in the season after that.
They claimed fine wins over the likes of York City and Chorley and, even after a shock home loss to Guiseley, a 1-0 victory against Alfreton Town in the penultimate game of the campaign left them in the play-off places.
Ultimately, it wasn’t to be as a 1-1 draw at Curzon on the final day wasn’t enough with Cox and Boston pipping the Poppies at the post for the last play-off place.
For a long while, it looked like what many felt was impossible might just be possible.
Despite all the plastic snakes and mud slinging, Cox should be remembered as being the right man in the right place at the right time before deciding that the grass was probably a little bit greener up the road.
Culverhouse came in and continued to steer the ship in the right direction but, as we now know, he won’t be here to lead Kettering into next season.
That task, instead, is now in the hands of new manager Lee Glover.
And this impressive and unexpected 2021/22 campaign certainly gives him a solid foundation from which to build on.
Jon Dunham’s Totally Unofficial Player of the Year - Alex Brown.
As we already know, left-back Brown pretty much swept the board for the club’s end-of-season awards.
Signed from King’s Lynn Town, he settled in quickly and was a perfect example of a consistent performer. Pretty much a ‘seven out of 10’ every time he featured and often better than that as he posed a threat going forward while remaining solid defensively.
Fellow full-back Connor Barrett was also worthy of a mention after an impressive campaign at the tender age of 19 while loanees George Cooper and goalkeeper Jackson Smith were excellent performers.