Kettering Town’s first opportunity to tighten their grip on the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central title race passed them by as Coalville Town snatched a 3-2 success at Latimer Park.
It was a strange, old night in truth. The Poppies were below-par for the majority of the evening, although when they did show their quality it resulted in them scoring their two goals.
Coalville, for their part, were workmanlike and showed tremendous character to battle back from 2-1 down with two goals in the final 10 minutes securing a priceless win in their attempts to secure a play-off place.
For Kettering, it was a reminder that there is a job to be finished and it is up to them to do just that.
The winning streak was ended at seven but it’s a run that has put them in a position of power so, if you are going to have a bad night, make sure it’s when you can afford it and just make sure it doesn’t turn into something more.
It will be up to them to do that in their final game in hand on Stourbridge at the weekend and they will certainly need to be better than they were this time.
Right from the off, it just wasn’t happening for them. Heavy touches here and loose passes there all added up to give Coalville plenty of encouragement.
There was an early warning when Dion Kelly-Evans’ back pass to Paul White was too short and Kairo Mitchell nipped in but ran the ball out for a goal-kick after going round the Poppies goalkeeper.
While some Kettering players couldn’t quite get going, it wasn’t a problem for Dan Holman who remained a livewire throughout when the ball finally got to him.
He fired a long-range effort just wide and then forced Richard Walton top tip a looping header over the crossbar.
But it was Coalville who broke the deadlock when former Poppies full-back Kalern Thomas skipped into the area and was hacked down by Declan Towers. A clear penalty and Mitchell made no mistake from the spot.
Kyle Perry should have doubled that advantage when a poor defensive header fell right into his path but he blasted over with just White to beat.
And Kettering made the visitors pay as they equalised with their first fluent move of the half.
Rhys Hoenes crossed from the left and the ball was only cleared as far as Michael Richens whose thunderous strike rattled the crossbar.
A scramble ensued but Holman was there to apply the finishing touch seven minutes before the break.
But the same pattern continued after half-time.
The Poppies just couldn’t get anything going and when they did go in front, it came from almost nothing.
Kelly-Evans’ sent a ball forward towards Aaron O’Connor and a fine first touch set him up for a shooting opportunity. His effort came back off the post but Marcus Kelly was on hand to pick up the pieces from close-range.
On another day, that would have been the spark the Poppies needed to go and finish it off.
Instead, Coalville forced them back and it soon became a case of hanging in there and seeing the game out.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The visitors levelled with nine minutes remaining when substitute Tim Berridge sent a decent strike into the bottom corner after being allowed too much time to line it up.
That seemed to shake Kettering up and O’Connor saw an effort well saved by Walton before Kelly and Brett Solkhon got in each other’s way when O’Connor had rolled the ball into their path on the left side of the area.
But, as the game seemed to be petering out, there was a twist in the tale.
Substitute Lathaniel Rowe-Turner lunged in with a needless challenge deep in his own half.
Andrew Wright whipped the free-kick in and experienced frontman Kyle Perry, just like he did twice in the 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture in January, was there to head home in what was the final play of the game.
It was a thoroughly frustrating finish to an evening that will certainly be filed under the ‘one of those nights’ section.
There won’t and shouldn’t be any panic, however.
But a little warning that titles don’t win themselves never hurt anyone...
Poppies: White; Kelly-Evans, D Towers, Stanley, Kelly; Richens, Stohrer (sub Solkhon, 83 mins), Meikle; Holman, O’Connor, Hoenes (sub Rowe-Turner, 78 mins). Subs not used: Toseland, Milnes, Bradshaw.
Coalville: Walton; Dean (sub Berridge, 72 mins), S Towers, Fenton, Thomas; Shaw (sub Burrows, 67 mins), Doyle-Charles, Wright, McGlinchey; Mitchell (sub Omotola, 90 mins), Perry. Subs not used: Browne, Cotton.
Referee: Ryan Williams.
Goals: Mitchell pen (29 mins, 0-1), Holman (38 mins, 1-1), Kelly (65 mins, 2-1), Berridge (81 mins, 2-2), Perry (90 mins, 2-3).
Bookings: Holman, Perry, Rowe-Turner (all fouls), Walton (dissent), Doyle-Charles (time-wasting), Kelly (kicking ball away).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Dan Holman - slim pickings on this night but, as observed on numerous occasions, just has that extra bit of class. When the Poppies were posing a threat, Holman seemed to be involved and he was on target again to bring them level in the first half. This wasn’t really a good night for anyone in a red shirt but Holman always carried a threat.