Kettering Town recovered from a shocking start as they battled back to claim a 2-2 draw at Aylesbury United.
And the Poppies’ fightback proved to be more than useful as their nearest rivals at the top of the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central, Aylesbury, slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Royston Town.
James Jepson’s superb second-half free-kick completed the Kettering comeback after some very questionable defending had seen them fall 2-0 down inside the first 20 minutes.
But Josh Moreman marked his return to the club after a loan stint at Stamford by pulling a goal back just before half-time.
And the Poppies were well worth their point by the end as they produced a much-improved display in the second period, which was capped by Jepson’s excellent strike.
As expected, Ash Robinson started at right-back in place of the suspended James Clifton.
Richard Knight returned in goal in place of Jamie McAlindon who, along with Dubi Ogbonna, was ruled out through illness.
Quite simply, it unravelled for Kettering in the opening 20 minutes.
After an even start, the Poppies did create the first couple of chances with Brett Solkhon having a close-range shot blocked before Elliot Sandy produced a good strike on the turn, which forced Tahj Bell into a decent save.
But, defensively, the Poppies went on to have nothing short of a nightmare.
They fell behind on eight minutes when, having committed players forward, they were caught out as Lewis Putman got away on the left.
He beat Steve Kinniburgh and fizzed a dangerous ball across goal, which Robinson could only divert into his own net.
If that was bad, worse was to follow as Putman - the league’s top scorer - made it 2-0 just 10 minutes later. The defence stood off, Putman took aim and got a helping hand from a deflection which gave Knight no chance as the ball looped over him.
There was little sign of a response from the Poppies, although Andy Hall forced Bell into a low save after being played in by David Kolodynski.
However, Hall was forced to come to the rescue at the other end as he hacked Bill Morgan’s header off the line after the centre-half rose above everyone to power a corner towards goal.
A furious Scott Machin made himself heard from the bench and a tactical switch soon followed with Andy Gooding coming on in place of Hall.
But little changed as the hosts should have made it 3-0 when Steve Hatch somehow hit the crossbar with the goal at his mercy after a cross from Stacey Field.
However, in the final minute of the first half, the Poppies were given a lifeline.
Kinniburgh crossed from the left, Solkhon’s headed was brilliantly saved by Bell but Moreman reacted quickest to fire home the loose ball.
There were few chances in the early stages of the second period but Putman continued to be a threat and he forced Knight into a good low save.
Sandy shot wide from Kolodynski’s low cross but it took a moment of magic to bring the Poppies level with 20 minutes to go.
Jepson stepped up from 25 yards and his wonderful left-footed free-kick found the net with the aid of the inside of the post.
Both sides went in search of a winner and Gooding forced Bell into a sharp save at his near post before Robinson blasted over after exchanging passes with Sandy.
Steve Hatch sent a low effort just wide at the other end but, despite putting the pressure on towards the end, the Poppies couldn’t find a winner as they were forced to settle for their first draw of the season.
Aylesbury United: Bell; S Wood, J Wood, Morgan, Bewley; Waites (sub Acheampong, 59 mins), Hatch (sub Chabata, 90 mins), Williams (sub Edgeworth, 80 mins), Coulter; Field, Putman. Subs not used: Joyce, Grace.
Poppies: Knight; Robinson, Solkhon, Lee, Kinniburgh; Hall (sub Gooding, 38 mins), Jepson, Hull, Moreman (sub Hoban, 85 mins); Sandy, Kolodynski. Subs not used: Marsh, Bukasa, Obeng.
Referee: D Richardson.
Goals: Robinson og (8 mins, 1-0), Putman (18 mins, 2-0), Moreman (44 mins, 2-1), Jepson (70 mins, 2-2).
Bookings: Coulter, Williams, Hull (all fouls).