Kettering Town slipped to their first defeat of the season as a late goal secured a smash-and-grab victory for Leiston at Latimer Park.
So, what did we learn?
The Poppies have some defensive work to do.
Having conceded just four goals in their first seven matches, it looked like Kettering’s defensive issues had been pretty much resolved. But, unfortunately, a couple of lapses were well and truly punished on this occasion. They clearly missed the presence of the injured Declan Towers, who has been highly impressive since joining in the summer. But, particularly from set-pieces, they didn’t look comfortable all afternoon. The warning signs were there from a corner before the conceded the opening goal from another that followed, leaving a man pretty much unmarked at the far post. And then, when a point would have been a reasonable return after a below-par display, they switched off again towards the end. The loss, of course, wasn’t all down to the defending. Kettering could and should have done better with the chances they created and, indeed, they didn’t have a cutting edge at the other end of the pitch. But this was a harsh reminder that, no matter who you are playing, mistakes will be punished.
You're not allowed to lay blame at the referee but…
I am going to write this part tentatively because I know how sensitive referees can be. First and foremost, referee Scott Tallis wasn’t to blame for Kettering’s defensive lapses. But, in close matches like this, decisions that are made can often have a big impact on the outcome. Let’s leave aside one ludicrous decision the official made when he pulled the play back for a foul on Michael Richens after the Kettering captain had skipped away from the challenge and got into the penalty area before the whistle sounded. Advantage rule anyone? It was the penalty awarded to the Poppies that was the main talking point. To be honest, it looked soft as Rhys Hoenes went down under a challenge. There’s a debate to be had over whether it was a penalty or not. Leiston were understandably furious but Patrick Brothers’ decision to raise his hands and push Hoenes over was crazy. It what a red card offence but Mr Tallis chose to show yellow and it was Brothers who was on hand to slam home the late winner for the visitors later on in the afternoon. No, the referee wasn’t to blame for the defeat but Kettering have every right to have a bit of a grip with him.
Kettering’s squad is stretched to its limit - and it showed.
No-one wants to make excuses but there’s no question that Marcus Law simply isn’t able to field what he probably feels is his strongest 11 at the moment. Lindon Meikle, Dion Kelly-Evans, Declan Towers, Aaron O’Connor, James Brighton, Andrea Borg. These aren’t fringe players who are either injured or suspended at the moment. They are key first-team players who would either be starting or pushing extremely hard to. Throw in Brett Solkhon having to be withdrawn after an hour due to an ankle problem and it left the Poppies down to the bare bones. It finally caught up with them this time and the task they now have is to get these players back as soon as possible. Meikle is due to return from suspension this weekend and Kelly-Evans must wait one more week. As for the rest, the sooner they become available the better because Kettering’s lack of options was fully exposed at the weekend. There’s no scope to go and throw money at replacements, Law insists the club have invested in these players and it is simply a game of patience for everyone concerned. And, after such a good start, they have that bit of breathing space...
Gary Stohrer is a workhorse.
It was a day when too many Kettering players were slightly under-par. But one who could definitely look himself in the mirror on Saturday night was Gary Stohrer. He just did what he has been doing all season. Playing at right-back, he never gave up trying. He was strong in his challenges and did what he could to get attacks going down the right-hand side. Stohrer seems to be as honest as they come. His work-rate and effort remains at the same level, regardless of what is happening. Most would say that should be a minimum requirement but Stohrer delivers on each occasion and others would do well to follow his lead.
Now, it’s about how you react.
Leaving aside the NFA Hillier Senior Cup clash with Cogenhoe United tomorrow (Tuesday) night when Marcus Law will undoubtedly make a number of changes, the Poppies will be judged on how they react next weekend. They face another potential banana skin in the second qualifying round of the Emirates FA Cup when they play AFC Mansfield at Latimer Park. They should have Lindon Meikle available again after suspension, which will help boost the numbers. But you’d like to think that the Poppies are now a wounded animal. The sign of a decent team is their ability to bounce back after a setback. We will find out whether Kettering have it in their locker to do just that on Saturday.