Play-off heartbreak as Poppies let it slip

Poppies boss Dean Thomas
Poppies boss Dean Thomas

Kettering Town surrendered a two-goal lead as they suffered play-off heartbreak at Latimer Park.

At the end of the day it was Slough Town who were celebrating promotion to the Calor League Premier Division as they completed a stunning second-half fightback to seal a 3-2 success in front of over 2,300 fans.

The Poppies stormed into a 2-0 first-half lead thanks to goals from Chris Logan and Henry Eze.

But they uncharacteristically fell apart after the break as Slough got themselves on the front foot and scored three goals in 20 minutes to turn the game on its head.

Quite what went wrong is anyone’s guess. The answer was fairly simple, however. Kettering were good in the first half, Slough were just better in the second and the Poppies had no answer to it.

Unsurprisingly, Dean Thomas named an unchanged team from the one that beat Daventry Town in the semi-final last week with top scorer Dubi Ogbonna having to settle for a place on the bench as Elliot Sandy continued as the lone striker.

Slough were without their top scorer Ed Smith, who was suspended following a sending-off towards the end of the regular campaign.

It was a typically frantic start from both sides with the challenges flying in and passes going astray.

And there was no real sign of what was to come when the Poppies drew first blood on 12 minutes.

James Clifton’s throw from the right was flicked on by Sandy and then headed forward by Jonathon Thorpe. Logan went in for the loose ball with George Short and it found its way in with Logan taking the credit.

That breakthrough put Kettering firmly on the front foot and Thorpe fired over before Jake Somerville tipped Logan’s half-volley over the bar. But, from the resulting corner, it was 2-0.

Andy Gooding swung the flag-kick into a crowded six-yard box and Eze evaded his marker to finish it off with a simple close-range header.

Gooding fired an effort wide before the break while James Dobson had Slough’s only real shots in anger but was off target on both occasions.

The visitors needed to respond after the break and they did it emphatically as the Poppies surrendered their two-goal advantage inside 21 minutes after half-time.

Tommy Hull had to produce a last-ditch tackle to deny Adam Cornell while Eze flicked a header wide at the other end.

But it was game on just before the hour mark when Dyer got in between Eze and Hull and beat Alastair Worby with a firm shot at the near post.

Chances followed at both ends with Cornell heading wide for the visitors while Clifton and Sandy both dragged efforts off target for the Poppies.

But the hosts struggled to keep the ball as Slough continued to pile forward. And the inevitable happened on 66 minutes when Dyer turned in the area and produced a superb finish into the far corner.

The visitors so nearly took the lead soon after when Dyer got in again and was denied by Worby. The ball fell to James McClurg who couldn’t believe it as his follow-up was brilliantly blocked by Eze.

But Slough didn’t need to worry as they completed an incredible fightback with 13 minutes to go.

The ball came into Kettering’s penalty area and wasn’t cleared properly. It came to McClurg and he left Worby flat-footed with a good strike into the bottom corner.

Thomas threw on Ogbonna in a desperate bid to find a way back but there were no clear-cut chances forthcoming as Slough comfortably held on.

It was, ultimately, an implosion from the Poppies. From seemingly having the game, and promotion, won they surrendered without trace – something that this group of players couldn’t be accused of too often during the season.

The devastation was there to see as the final whistle blew while Slough rightly enjoyed their elevation. They were well worth it after that second-half display.

For Kettering, there will be another season. And a few months ago that’s something many thought wouldn’t happen.

The disappointment will never go away. But the Poppies will be back...

Poppies: Worby; Clifton, Eze, Hull, Kinniburgh; Thorpe, Jepson, Gooding, Logan (sub Ogbonna, 80 mins), Moreman; Sandy. Subs not used: Hamilton, Bukasa, Osei-Siribour, Fuller.

Slough: Somerville; Fraser, Hollis, Woozley, R Parsons; Harris, Short (sub Sintim, 88 mins), McClurg, Dobson; Cornell (sub Edwards, 85 mins), Dyer. Subs not used: J Parsons, Duff, Harris.

Referee: Thomas Harty.

Goals: Logan (12 mins, 1-0), Eze (22 mins, 2-0), Dyer (57 mins, 2-1), Dyer (66 mins, 2-2), McClurg (77 mins, 2-3).

Bookings: Moreman, Dobson, Fraser, Dyer, Eze (all fouls).

Attendance: 2,331.