VERDICT – Impressive Poppies hit back in fine style

Gary Mulligan is mobbed by his Kettering Town team-mates after opening the scoring during the 2-1 success over Hungerford Town at Latimer Park. Picture by Jim McAlwane
Gary Mulligan is mobbed by his Kettering Town team-mates after opening the scoring during the 2-1 success over Hungerford Town at Latimer Park. Picture by Jim McAlwane

The sign of any team’s character can be judged on a number of things, not least on their ability to bounce back after a heavy loss.

With that being the case, it’s fair to say that character is alive and well within the Kettering Town squad.

Some will argue that the 4-0 defeat at Dunstable Town didn’t reflect the Poppies’ performance on the night. But the scoreline was there in black and white.

With that setback came an opportunity for Marcus Law to ring the changes in a bid to get things back on track at the first attempt.

The Kettering boss did just that and the end result was a thoroughly impressive display as they deservedly saw off a Hungerford Town side, who are firmly established in the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division.

Defensively, the Poppies were solid. They had to withstand a number of aerial assaults, mainly from the long throws of James Rusby.

Brett Solkhon - a jack of all trades - showed he can pretty much play anywhere after an excellent performance at right-back while Ollie Thorne and Dominic Langdon were assured in the middle.

Gary Mulligan and, in particular, James Brighton were full of running in midfield while, further up the pitch, the returning Dubi Ogbonna, Elliot Sandy and Courtney Baker-Richardson worked hard to ensure openings were created.

From back to front, it would have made pleasing viewing for Law, although now the test will be to get it on a regular basis. Indeed, already this season the only thing consistent about the Poppies has been their inconsistency.

They couldn’t have asked for a better start on this occasion as they took the lead from their first corner of the game on 11 minutes.

Brighton swung it in and Mulligan’s header was hacked off the line. Thorne turned the ball back towards goal and Mulligan reacted quicker than anyone to nod home from close-range.

The Poppies were forced to defend well for large parts of the remainder of the first half as James Clark lobbed over before Langdon produced an important clearance over his own bar after Gary Horgan headed the ball back across goal.

And it needed an excellent stop from the recalled Jamie McAlindon to deny Mark Draycott after a Rusby throw went all the way through to the far post.

Liam Canavan headed straight at Shane Gore just before the break after a neat move involving Brighton and Ogbonna and Kettering followed on from that with an excellent second-half display.

McAlindon was a mere spectator for most of it as the back four snuffed out anything that came at them. And that paved the way for more attacking intent.

The chance to make it 2-0 arrived on the hour when Ogbonna was hauled down by Gore in the area. But the frontman’s resulting penalty lacked power and Gore was able to hold on to it after guessing the right way.

Canavan saw a shot deflected just wide of the post while Solkhon volleyed over but the crucial second did arrived with 11 minutes to go.

Substitute Saul Williams picked up the ball on the right side of the area and had his shot blocked.

But it rebounded back to Baker-Richardson, who is proving to be a real find, and he made no mistake with a crisp finish that was too good for Gore.

As it turned out, that goal would turn out to be the winner after Draycott thumped home a stoppage-time penalty for the visitors after Thorne had blocked off Nat Jarvis.

That goal, however, flattered Hungerford who could have few complaints about what had transpired before it.

This was a perfect response from the Poppies and a thoroughly deserved success.

The key now is producing it on a consistent basis and they will get the chance to show they have that in their locker when high-flying Chippenham Town roll into Latimer Park on Tuesday night.

Poppies: McAlindon; Solkhon, Thorne, Langdon, Kinniburgh; Mulligan, Brighton; Ogbonna (sub Williams, 74 mins), Canavan (sub J Brown, 71 mins), Sandy (sub Gooding, 81 mins); Baker-Richardson. Subs not used: Grocott, Marsden.

Hungerford: Gore; Horgan (sub Goodger, 69 mins), Boardman, Day, John; Stow, Collins (sub Rees, 69 mins), Rusby, Clark (sub Jarvis, 69 mins); Draycott, S Brown. Subs not used: Strudley, Jones.

Referee: Nigel Smith.

Goals: Mulligan (11 mins, 1-0), Baker-Richardson (79 mins, 2-0), Draycott pen (90 mins, 2-1).

Bookings: Mulligan, Gore (both fouls).

Attendance: 588.