Kettering Town moved back to the top of the Evo-Stik South League Premier as they claimed a 4-2 victory at Merthyr Town.
The Poppies were only able to name three substitutes with Liam Bateman missing from the squad and that meant a start for Kalern Thomas at right-back.
But they took the lead after nine minutes when Howe found O’Connor who turned and found the net.
Howe hit the top of the crossbar after an excellent run from Ben Toseland but the striker did double the lead a minute later when he headed home O’Connor’s cross from the left.
Paul White produced a superb save to keep out a Corey Jenkins header and the Poppies took advantage with Mathew Stevens making it 3-0 on 33 minutes after he was played in by Howe.
But Merthyr had further chances before half-time with White tipping Harry Franklin’s shot over the bar while Jaye Bowen also went close with a long-range effort.
Kettering went 4-0 up 11 minutes into the second half when Brett Solkhon produced a smart finish from just inside the box.
But Merthyr went on to finish the game strongly with Kerry Morgan pulling one back and then Ian Traylor making it 4-2 while Howe was denied a second by a brilliant block in between.
White produced another excellent stop from Jenkins to ensure there was no nervy finish.
And the win was enough to take the Poppies back to the summit as morning leaders King’s Lynn Town were held to a 1-1 draw by Weymouth, although third-placed Hereford claimed a 1-0 win at Dorchester Town to stay just two points behind Kettering with four games in hand.