Poppies are crowned champions

Kettering Town joint-managers Thomas Baillie and Scott Machin
Kettering Town joint-managers Thomas Baillie and Scott Machin

Kettering Town have been crowned champions of the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central.

The Poppies slumped to a 3-0 defeat at Rugby Town in front of over 1,000 fans at Butlin Road but the day ended in celebration after second-placed Aylesbury could only draw 0-0 with Aylesbury United.

Fortunately, the game itself could be forgotten as the large army of Kettering supporters invaded the pitch when news of Aylesbury’s result filtered through.

Putting this game aside, the Poppies have been the outstanding team in the division this season and their title success is much deserved after years in the financial wilderness.

A team that almost disappeared can now call themselves champions.

Kettering made two changes to the team that started the 2-0 win over Bedford Town on Saturday with Andy Gooding and Tommy Hull coming into the side at the expense of James Jepson and Josh Moreman while David Kolodynski was included against the club where he remains the record goalscorer.

The early exchanges were even with neither side creating a clear opportunity until the hosts opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark.

There were appeals for a foul from Brett Solkhon as he battled for the ball with Richard Gregory. But no whistle came and Gregory, who has been prolific since signing for Rugby from Stratford Town in January, ran on before coolly rounding Richard Knight to score into an empty net.

Knight had to be at his best to keep out Justin Marsden’s good strike soon after but, as far as the Poppies were concerned, there was little to write home about.

Their play lacked fluency and it wasn’t until first-half stoppage-time that they threatened with Gary Mulligan and Tommy Hull both forcing Neil Collett into routine saves with headers.

But the disappointing display continued in the second period and the Poppies found themselves 2-0 down nine minutes after the restart.

Solkhon’s header back towards Knight wasn’t strong enough. The goalkeeper headed it out but it fell to Gregory who found Justin Marsden and he finished well into the bottom corner.

Kettering weren’t helped by the loss of James Clifton to a suspected broken collarbone but they still struggled to create anything clear-cut.

Substitute Dubi Ogbonna had an effort blocked from a cross by Elliot Sandy while Hull somehow scooped over the bar from close-range.

But Rugby wrapped up a deserved win with 11 minutes to go when Marsden got away from Solkhon on the left and pulled the ball back for Lewis Rankin who held his nerve before hammering high into the net.

Well beaten, the Poppies players and fans were made to wait after the final whistle.

But when the news filtered through that Aylesbury had only drawn, the fans piled on the pitch to savour the moment.

Poor on the day but it’s a season that wins a title and Kettering have been the best. They deserve the moment...

Rugby: Collett; George, Austin, Burns, Kelly; Youngs, Blythe, Rowley, Grocott; Gregory (sub Rankin, 70 mins), Marsden (sub Piggon, 89 mins). Subs not used: Lake-Gaskin, Banks, Koriya.

Poppies: Knight; Clifton (sub Jepson, 61 mins), Solkhon, Lee, Kinninburgh; Mulligan, Hull; Gooding; Hall (sub Robinson, 77 mins), Kolodynski (sub Ogbonna, 63 mins), Sandy. Gooding. Subs not used: Moreman, McAlindon.

Referee: Nick Hobbis.

Goals: Gregory (28 mins, 1-0), Marsden (56 mins, 2-0), Rankin (79 mins, 3-0).

Booking: Grocott (foul).

Attendance: 1,215.