Elliot Sandy’s late penalty ensured Kettering Town extended their advantage at the top of the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central with a 2-1 success over AFC Hayes at Latimer Park.
Sandy slotted home from 12 yards with eight minutes to go after James Clifton had been fouled.
But the Poppies certainly didn’t have things all their own way as David Kolodynski’s opener was cancelled out in the second half before Sandy won it.
Dubi Ogbonna was rested after picking up a foot injury in training and that meant a first start for the club for Gary Mulligan.
Andy Gooding was missing due to work commitments while Joe Curtis, who joined the club on Friday, was named on the bench alongside Jason Lee, who was replaced at centre-half by the returning Tommy Hull.
The Poppies had an early scare when Richard Knight tipped Jake Cass’ shot onto the post.
But the hosts got into their stride with Elliot Sandy finding Josh Moreman but he hesitated before shooting and was crowded out.
Dominic Rhone had the ball in the net for the visitors but was denied by an offside flag.
And the Poppies responded to that by taking the lead on 25 minutes.
Luke Baldwin slipped in the box when trying to clear and the ball landed at the feet of Kolodynski who drilled it home.
The visitors reacted well to that though and Ryan Debatista shot wide after being played in by Cass.
Kettering had claims for a penalty rejected after Kolodynski went down under a challenge from Hayes goalkeeper Melvyn Winter
Winter saved from Kolodynski early in the second half while Moreman was off target with another opportunity.
But the visitors stunned the Poppies with an equaliser just before the hour.
Cass’ good ball played in Debatista and he held off a couple of challenges before calmly beating Knight.
Kettering looked to respond and Sandy toe-poked an effort over the bar before they got themselves back in front with eight minutes to go.
James Clifton was brought down by Winter in the area and Sandy slotted home from the penalty spot.
There was a flashpoint in stoppage-time when Mulligan and Mike Kinsella were both sent off after a brawl.
But the Poppies saw the game out to keep their challenge for automatic promotion on track.
Poppies: Knight; Clifton, Solkhon, Hull, Kinniburgh; Hall (sub Robinson, 61 mins), Jepson, Sandy, Moreman; Mulligan, Kolodynski (sub Curtis, 71 mins). Subs not used: Lee, Marsh, Abbasi.
Goals: Kolodynski (25 mins, 1-0), Debatista (57 mins, 1-1), Sandy pen (82 mins, 2-1).