VERDICT – Poppies win well but the hopes and season are over

Ben Stephens and Rene Howe celebrate after the latter scored Kettering Town's third goal in the 4-1 victory at Dorchester Town. Pictures by Peter Short
Ben Stephens and Rene Howe celebrate after the latter scored Kettering Town's third goal in the 4-1 victory at Dorchester Town. Pictures by Peter Short

Alas, it was not meant to be for Kettering Town.

After a big push during the second half of the season, the Poppies just fell short in their question for an Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division play-off place.

The Poppies players celebrate one of their goals

The Poppies players celebrate one of their goals

To their credit, Marcus Law’s team kept their end of the bargain on the final day as they claimed a comfortable 4-1 success at Dorchester Town.

But the drama the healthy and noisy band of Poppies fans who made the long trek to Dorset had hoped for never materialised as Leamington held on to fifth place after a 0-0 draw with fellow promotion hopefuls Hungerford Town.

It ended in an anticlimax and, no doubt, left the manager, players and fans reflecting on what might have been.

Most will point to the 1-0 home defeat to Bedworth United - a game Kettering should have been capable of winning. It was a crushing blow to their hopes.

Liam Canavan glances a header just wide during Kettering's success at Dorchester

Liam Canavan glances a header just wide during Kettering's success at Dorchester

But the reality is, it was the first half of the season that cost the Poppies. A squad that never really clicked received a big overhaul towards the end of October and from November onwards, Kettering were a genuine force.

In the end, where it was lost doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t meant to be this time. But Kettering’s time will come again.

As far as the final league game of the season was concerned, it was impressive stuff once again.

The Poppies started brightly and Rene Howe shot wide before they took the lead when Ben Stephens broke into the area.

The midfielder, who was the best player on the pitch before being substitute, nodded the ball past home goalkeeper Alan Walker-Harris and then squared it across goal where Henry Lander put through his own net.

The lead was doubled 10 minutes later when James Brighton whipped in a free-kick from wide on the right. It missed everyone and Walker-Harris reacted too late as it nestled in the far corner.

But Dorchester produced an immediate response as Craig Hill could only parry Bradley Tarbuck’s low drive and Toby Holmes reacted quickest to stab home the rebound.

Kettering continued to look dangerous going forward, however. And Liam Canavan’s long-range shot clipped the top of the bar while Walker-Harris denied Wilson Carvalho after a neat build-up.

But it was 3-1 on 29 minutes when Stephens produced a magical nutmeg to leave a defender for dead and then rolled the ball across goal. Silvano Obeng missed it but Howe was there to tap home at the far post.

Dorchester’s task got even harder when Franklyn Clarke was sent off for pushing Stephens in the face following an altercation between the two after the Kettering man conceded a foul.

And Kettering almost took advantage before the break with Obeng going close on the turn before Canavan drew a fine save out of Walker-Harris before glancing a header wide from the resulting corner.

The hosts didn’t let that numerical disadvantage hold them back after the break as player-manager Mark Jermyn, on as a second-half substitute, forced Hill to tip his fine chip onto the bar.

And then Chris Carruthers was in the right place to block Tarbuck’s shot on the line from the resulting corner.

But the Poppies wrapped up the points with nine minutes to go when skipper Brett Solkhon headed home Brighton’s corner.

The celebrations were muted, clearly word had got to the Kettering players about the deadlock up at Leamington.

Hopefully, the disappointment will soon be replaced with a sense of pride at the way this particular season was turned around so dramatically at the end of last year.

The basis of a squad to challenge for automatic promotion next season is in place, of that there is no doubt.

With some security off the pitch now in place, the demanding fanbase will be within their rights to expect a big push once August rolls around.

And, if the second half of this season is anything to go by, the Poppies’ players and manager should be in a decent position to deliver.

Dorchester: Walker-Harris; Hanger (sub Jermyn, h-t), Lander, Dillon, Martin; Tarbuck, Clarke, Davis, L Holmes (sub Watson, h-t); N Walker, T Holmes (sub Brookes, 80 mins). Subs not used: B Walker, Proffitt.

Poppies: Hill; Bateman (sub Cotton, 74 mins), Solkhon, Carruthers, Brighton; Carvalho, Pepe-N’Goma, Canavan, Stephens (sub Baker, 69 mins); Howe, Obeng (sub Grocott, 57 mins). Subs not used: Popa, Bradshaw.

Referee: Ben Cobb.

Goals: Lander og (5 mins, 0-1), Brighton (15 mins, 0-2), T Holmes (16 mins, 1-2), Howe (29 mins, 1-3), Solkhon (81 mins, 1-4).

Bookings: Brighton, Martin (both fouls).

Sending-off: Clarke (violent conduct).

Attendance: 507.