Mitch Austin described Kettering Town’s achievement of securing an Evo-Stik South League Premier play-off place as “outstanding” - but the assistant-manager already has his eyes locked on the bigger prize.
The Poppies secured a top-five finish thanks to their 4-1 victory over Hitchin Town at Latimer Park as top scorer Aaron O’Connor hit all four goals to make it 36 for the season in all competition.
It was the perfect response from Kettering after they suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat at promotion rivals King’s Lynn Town last Thursday night.
With five games still to play in the regular season, the Poppies are now looking to finish either second or third to secure a home semi-final in the post-season.
But it has already been a marked improvement on last season’s ninth-placed finish and Austin, who celebrates his 30th birthday today (Sunday), blasted back at the critics of boss Marcus Law as he insisted the Poppies are aiming for nothing less than promotion to the Vanarama National League North or South.
“It was a good reaction,” the Kettering assistant-boss said.
“Obviously we were disappointed with Thursday’s result but this was a good reaction, a good performance and the work-rate was excellent.
“It was comfortable. We switched it up and changed a few things and gave some lads a chance to show what their worth is ahead of the play-off campaign.
“And there are a few boys who haven’t been getting a sniff and had a bit of a point to prove and I thought Gaz Stohrer in particular was outstanding. The lads took it to Hitchin and deserved the win.
“You have to credit the gaffer with the changes we were able to make. He has built a strong squad and it’s not easy to keep some big personalities happy but he has everyone here and on the same page.
“It’s a good squad. In the last couple of seasons we haven’t hit the play-offs so to get there now is great.
“We would have been happy to do it on the last day but to do it with five games to play is outstanding. We have comfortably beaten our points and goals tally of last season.
“Anyone who wants criticise Marcus needs to get their heads seen to. We have had a fantastic season as it stands now.
“And we are aiming to go up, we want to move up a level and we will do our best to go through anyone who stands in the way.”
Austin, meanwhile, reserved special praise for hotshot O’Connor who once again emphasised his importance to the Kettering side with another outstanding display in front of goal.
“It’s great for the likes of Matty (Stevens), whether he stays here for another year or moves on elsewhere, to say he had Aaron O’Connor as his strike partner in his career is fantastic for him,” Austin added.
“I was actually trying to drag Aaron off at 3-0 but the gaffer (Law) wasn’t having it!
“He got his fourth and then we were able to bring him off to keep him fresh and make sure he is still banging the goals in for us.
“He was so clinical once again and that’s what he does, it’s something everyone who plays as a striker can learn from.”
The Poppies now have a busy week in front of them with a long trip to take on bottom side Gosport Borough on Tuesday night before they entertain third-placed Weymouth in a huge game at Latimer Park on Thursday.