Marcus Law praised his Kettering Town players for showing a “tremendous fighting spirit” as they kicked off the new year by moving to the top of the Evo-Stik South League Premier.
The first 1,000-plus crowd of the season was on hand at Latimer Park to see the Poppies edge out morning leaders King’s Lynn Town 1-0 thanks to a first-half goal from top scorer Aaron O’Connor.
But it took a big defensive display, including from Brett Solkhon who made his 500th appearance for the club, and a man-of-the-match performance from goalkeeper Paul White to keep the Linnets at bay as they also missed a first-half penalty.
However, despite having Michael Richens sent-off, the Poppies held on to open up a two-point advantage at the summit.
The victory was the third in a row for Law’s team over the festive period and he was delighted with the “togetherness” his players showed to secure a crucial success.
“What came out of this game was the total opposite of what we did in the previous two where we dominated, played some very attractive football and scored lots of goals,” the Poppies boss said.
“This time, King’s Lynn were the better side on the ball, they made better decisions than us but ultimately our goalkeeper made some great saves to keep us in it and when the opportunity came up, we took it. When you have the likes of Aaron and Rene (Howe) in there, you know you always have a chance.
“It was just great to see a togetherness and spirit. As for out and out chances, they had more of it but we wanted to show our fans that we are willing to fight and that when we are up against it, we are going to hang in there.
“From day one of pre-season, we talked about togetherness and when things are going against us to make sure we hang in there and we certainly showed a tremendous fighting spirit.”
The crucial win did come at a price, however, as the Poppies will now be without key midfielder Richens for a prolonged spell.
He was already sitting on a three-match ban for an accumulation of bookings and now faces a further three after his red card for an off-the-ball incident yesterday.
Law felt the incident came about due to some “gamesmanship” from the visitors but he had no complaints and is now set to dip into the transfer market for reinforcements.
“Rico (Richens) was already banned for three and now, with the red card, we are not going to see him for a while,” Law added.
“The referee hasn’t hesitated. Let’s be straight, they (King’s Lynn) have been very clever. They were on top of the referee continually.
“I find it quite funny that when we did a bit of gamesmanship, we saw some highly strung behaviour so they are obviously aren’t used to having it back at them.
“We knew that they would try to boss and bully the game and use their experience.
“They did their gamesmanship and so did we.
“But in that situation, Michael reacted. He said to us that their lad did one thing, he reacted to it and got caught and he got punished for it.
“It’s disappointing but we now have to look at that hole to fill because he has been a key figure in what we have done.”
The Poppies now face two tricky away matches as they head to Basingstoke Town on Saturday before a long trip to Tiverton Town next Tuesday night.