Poppies are stunned by St Neots’ sensational fightback

Corby, Kettering Town v Arlesey: Thomas Baillie, and Dean Thomas.'17/02/13
Corby, Kettering Town v Arlesey: Thomas Baillie, and Dean Thomas.'17/02/13

Kettering Town squandered a 3-0 lead as St Neots Town completed a sensational fightback to send the Poppies a step closer to relegation from the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division with a 4-3 victory at Rowley Park.

On a day when the vast majority of lower league football was wiped out thanks to the untimely return of the wintry weather, a superb effort by a band of some 30 people from St Neots saw them clear the snow off the pitch.

It ensured referee John Steel could give the game the go ahead, even though the snow continued to fall ahead of kick-off to give the pitch another light dusting.

And those loyal people who won out against the elements were eventually rewarded by their side in the most dramatic of fashion.

The Saints scored three goals in the final 12 minutes after the Poppies had looked set for a shock victory after they had raced into a 3-0 lead inside 54 minutes.

Kettering boss Thomas Baillie opted to fill the void left by Lewis Wilson being recalled from his loan spell by Northampton Town with Will Muzvimbiri, who started alongside Aman Verma in attack. Baillie also included a new name on the substitutes’ bench in the form of former Coventry City youngster Pa Njie.

And it was the Poppies who started the better with Muzvimbiri forcing Jack Giddens into an early save before Verma headed a Jamie Griffiths cross just over.

The hosts had pace aplenty in their attack and they soon got a foothold in the game with former Rushden & Diamonds midfielder Lewis Hilliard shooting over while Kyle Asante sent a header wide of the mark.

But it was the Poppies who stunned their hosts by taking the lead after 21 minutes.

Louie Hamilton got clear on the right side of the area and he was brought down by James Sage, a stonewall penalty as they say.

Referee Steel pointed to the spot once the foul had been confirmed by his hat-wearing assistant and it was Poppies skipper Nathan Hicks who confidently stepped up to send Giddens the wrong way from 12 yards.

It was all very even after that with Kettering defending pretty well while also looking a threat on the counter-attack.

But it needed a brave save from Michael Quirke to preserve the half-time lead when he did brilliantly to block Dubi Ogbonna’s shot after the striker got clear in the area.

An onslaught from the hosts was expected after the break but, instead, the Poppies extended their lead just 24 seconds after the restart.

Griffiths sent a low cross in from the left and Muzvimbiri darted in front of his marker and sent his shot into the corner.

St Neots looked to respond immediately and Quirke did well to deny Ogbonna again but what was a good day for the Poppies got even better on 54 minutes.

Griffiths was the provider again as he sent a corner to the far post and Henry Eze arrived to head home number three.

Ogbonna went close, in what was his final effort before being substituted, to pulling one back when his shot beat Quirke but also drifted wide of the far post.

But an explosive start to the second half continued when the hosts did give themselves a lifeline on the hour. Hilliard’s free-kick was blocked but substitute Louie Meech whipped in a cross from the right and Adrian Sear was there to head home from close-range.

A fightback didn’t materialise immediately as the game finally settled down again and there were few chances at either end until the hosts made it 3-2 with 12 minutes to play.

Chris Logan conceded a free-kick right on the edge of the box and Ryan Auger fired a low shot beyond Quirke and into the corner.

They were almost level soon after as Eze was in the right place at the right time to clear Andre Da Costa’s effort off the line.

And they went even closer on 87 minutes when a heroic block from Dan Crowie ensured Arthur Lee’s shot was deflected over the bar.

Kettering were hanging on at that point but they couldn’t hold on any longer as the hosts grabbed the equaliser with a minute to go.

Da Costa saw an effort crash back off the post but in the next phase of play, Quirke missed a ball in and it left Asante with an open net, which he duly took advantage of.

But if that was bad, it was about to get worse. As the game moved into stoppage-time a ball was played through and Hilliard raced clear before calmly beating Quirke with a composed finish to win it.

Heartbreaking is probably the word that sums it all up. But once the second goal had gone in, a complete fightback always looked likely.

That is the way it is for Kettering at the moment, they are heading down and quickly.

St Neots: Giddens; Auger, Hoyte, Lee, Sage (sub Da Costa, 55 mins); Asante, Hilliard, Sear, Adjei; Ogbonna (sub Wendly, 57 mins), Konadu (sub Meech, 49 mins). Subs not used: Wood, Nkinga.

Poppies: Quirke; Johnston, Crowie, Eze, Fox; Hamilton (sub Njie, 76 mins), Logan, Hicks, Griffiths; Verma, Muzvimbiri (sub Ford, 90 mins). Subs not used: Bradshaw, Glen, Talbot.

Referee: John Steel.

Goals: Hicks pen (21 mins, 0-1), Muzvimbiri (46 mins, 0-2), Eze (54 mins, 0-3), Sear (60 mins, 1-3), Auger (78 mins, 2-3), Asante (89 mins, 3-3), Hilliard (90 mins, 4-3).

Bookings: Fox (time-wasting), Hamilton, Sear (both fouls).

Attendance: 379.