Kettering Town produced another Latimer Park late show as they secured a dramatic sixth win in a row to move further clear at the top of the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central.
But what did we learn?
Late goals or not, the Poppies have hit a big run of form and starting to squeeze the life out of the title race.
We’ll come on to the late goals in a moment but the basic facts tell us that Kettering Town have stamped their authority on the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central title race at the perfect time. There’s no question that the win at Stourbridge will go down as a defining moment should the Poppies go on to win the title. But instead of resting on their laurels, Marcus Law’s team have powered on with four more victories in a row. They grabbed the battle for the sole automatic promotion place by the scruff of the neck and now given themselves a huge opportunity. For that, they must be applauded.
Scoring stoppage-time goals has become a very useful habit to get into.
You see it time and again. The teams at the top just find a way to win and the Poppies have certainly done that since the turn of the year. I love a good statistic so here goes nothing. Since, and including New Year’s Day, Kettering have turned four points into 13 just with stoppage-time goals alone. It’s an incredible stat and it’s one that could well be the difference when crunch time arrives. There’s a reason why the term ‘Fergie Time’ was born and the Poppies and their rivals had to watch on while Hereford did it time and again on their way to the title last season. Say what you want about this Kettering team but they don’t know when they are beaten and they aren’t willing to settle for a draw while there is still time left on the clock. They keep going and those late goals in this calendar year has earned them nine extra points, which is huge.
It’s no fluke that Brett Solkhon still continues to find himself in the right place at the right time.
I am not sure I have many more superlatives I can use to describe Brett Solkhon. I’ve been fortunate to witness the vast majority of the 500-plus matches he has played and the goals he has scored for the Poppies. But just when you think his career might be winding down, the legend keeps on delivering. He’s the man for the big occasion, he proved that by scoring the equaliser in that crucial win at Stourbridge. I am sure he has frustrations, everyone wants to be starting and playing but he once again showed just how important he is. Just four minutes of normal time were left when he was thrown into the action and in that time he forced Rushall goalkeeper Matt Sargeant into a good save before the magical moment arrived as the game moved into stoppage-time. But it’s no fluke. Solkhon just has that uncanny knack of getting into the right place at the right time. He trusts his team-mates to put the ball in a good area. And he takes the gamble to go into the areas others don’t. This was yet another crucial goal to add to his collection and yet another story to tell the grandchildren in the future!
Give Marcus Law some credit, he continued to tweak things to try to find the winning formula.
Make no mistake, this was a stern test for the Poppies as Rushall made life extremely difficult for them at Latimer Park. Despite taking the early lead through Aaron O’Connor, they were pegged back in the first half with the visitors looking a threat on the counter-attack. Manager Law made a change at half-time with Ben Milnes replacing Adam Cunnington but there was little joy for Kettering during a niggly second period. But Law continued to tweak things with Marcus Kelly being pushed into midfield with Lathaniel Rowe-Turner coming off the bench to slot in at left-back. And then, of course, the final roll of the dice saw Law put Brett Solkhon into the action with four minutes remaining. It took a bit of work but the manager and his staff eventually found the winning formula. Law has taken plenty of stick over the last few seasons but, at the moment, he has the midas touch and it’s playing a part in edging the Poppies closer to where they want to be.
A perfect February has put the Poppies in control. A perfect start to March could get rid of any lingering doubts.
February has been a flawless month for Kettering while their rivals have slipped up. It means they go into March and the final 11 matches with an eight-point advantage at the top while still having two games in hand on Stourbridge. The simple fact now is that the Poppies need to find 20 points from the final games to secure the title. As time goes by, that target could go down but that’s the state of play at the moment. But the big opportunity to close in on the crown is coming up. Saturday’s tricky trip to Lowestoft Town is followed by back-to-back home matches, which will represent those two games in hand on Stourbridge. There is still plenty of work to do to finish the job off but the Poppies could make life that bit easier for themselves over the next couple of weeks.