Kettering Town’s winning streak came to an end as play-off chasing Coalville Town snatched a last-gasp victory at Latimer Park.
But what did we learn?
It might just be me but, given their position of power, it felt like the Kettering players and fans weren’t sure what to do with it.
Kettering Town’s seven-match winning streak had clearly given them momentum in the race for the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central title. Indeed, just about everyone aside from those inside Latimer Park have been calling it for a while now. Most people believe the Poppies will go on to be crowned champions and it is most definitely their title to lose. They returned home for this clash knowing that a win would put them 11 points clear and send them that bit closer to the finish line. But it ended up being a strange evening. From the off, there was a flat atmosphere and it was matched on the field with a flat performance. It was almost as if everyone was going through the motions and it’s half understandable given the position they have put themselves in. In the end, of course, the Poppies were punished for a flat display and, in a way, it might not be a bad thing. You could argue that they have done the hard part but the hardest job is always getting over the line and this was a timely reminder that it doesn’t just happen.
After a below-par display, a draw would have been a good result but bad decisions and bad defending cost the Poppies.
There’s no question that Marcus Law’s team were well below-par. Despite that, they led 2-1 with nine minutes to go and had a point in their hands as the game moved into stoppage-time. Sometimes you just have to take what you have and a couple of moments of madness ultimately robbed them of that point. Lathaniel Rowe-Turner won’t need to be told that his challenge deep inside his own half was needless and rash and it presented Coalville with one final chance to whip a ball into the danger area. Having conceded two set-piece goals to Kyle Perry in the reverse fixture in January, it seemed as though Kettering had learned their lesson and they coped pretty well when defending those situations. But they lost their concentration at the worst possible time as Perry was allowed to head home the dramatic winner from that free-kick. It was a silly and frustrating way to turn an average night into a disappointing one.
Dan Holman stood out again and there is about to be even more responsibility on his shoulders.
Dan Holman has shown his undoubted class since Kettering secured his services and, even on a below-par evening, he stood out like a sore thumb. He remained a livewire throughout and helped himself to another goal in the process. Holman has become a key figure and the Poppies will need him more than ever over the next three matches. Aaron O’Connor’s red card at Lowestoft Town last weekend means he will now serve a three-game ban and that will mean even more responsibility will fall on Holman and top scorer Rhys Hoenes to lead the line. A frustrating, injury-hit campaign for O’Connor has meant the Poppies have learned to cope without him and now they will have to do it again.
If the Poppies respond in the same way as they did after their last midweek defeat, then they will be fine.
Cast your mind back to the middle of January. Kettering drew 2-2 at Coalville and then followed that with a midweek home clash with Biggleswade Town. The Poppies ended up getting beaten 3-2 by 10 men, a result that sparked some serious concern at the time. However, they got over it and that game was actually the spark for them to go on that seven-match winning run that has put them in the strong position they now find themselves in. If they respond to this 3-2 midweek home loss in the same way then the season will end in title glory...
There’s more than one reason why Kettering must now come out all guns blazing on Saturday.
And so, we move on to the weekend. One of the games in hand on Stourbridge has been wasted and the other one awaits at Latimer Park on Saturday. Another opportunity to increase the gap and strike another blow to those who are desperately trying to stay in touch. The chance to move 11 points clear should be motivation enough. But the fact that Kettering are taking on Banbury United should add extra incentive. Players, managers and fans don’t forget and the clash at Banbury back in December was possibly the big low point in a season of highs. The Poppies were well beaten 4-1 that day and few excuses were made. Marcus Law and his players will want to set the record straight just like they did in recent matches at Redditch United and St Ives Town.