Kettering Town produced another resolute display as they returned to winning ways to book a place in the second qualifying round of the Buildbase FA Trophy.
And, in the process, they landed a punch on one of their fellow early high-flyers in the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central as they saw off Stourbridge 2-0 at rain-swept Latimer Park.
However, quite how much can actually be taken from this remains to be seen.
Both sides made changes, with Marcus Law opting to make four of his own, and it’s fair to say that the teams that start when they meet in a big league game next month will look a lot different.
And, in fairness, it could be argued that the final scoreline was a bit harsh on the visitors, even if it did warm the hearts of the majority of the hardy souls who made their way out on a damp and freezing afternoon.
Stourbridge played some good stuff. They knocked the ball around with confidence and their approach play was highly-impressive at times.
But the truth is Poppies goalkeeper Paul White only had one serious save to make all afternoon as the home defence were once again at their resolute best.
The Stourbridge forward got little change out of the likes of Luke Graham, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and, in particular, Declan Towers who stood strong and made the right decisions and right challenges when the visitors attempted to penetrate the final third.
The Poppies, on the other hand, were fairly quiet from an attacking point of view until they brought some of their ‘big guns’ into the action in the second half, including another welcome appearance for Aaron O’Connor who got a solid half-an-hour under his belt as he continues his comeback from injury.
However, Kettering did get an early grip on the game thanks to an excellent strike.
Ben Toseland has been battling away for a regular starting role and he would have done his chances no harm at all when, after a quarter-of-an-hour, he received the ball on the edge of the left side of the area and took aim with a shot that found the far top corner.
To be honest, that strike was out of keeping with the game as a whole up until that point.
But Stourbridge dominated possession after the goal and a good move saw Aaron Forde play in the dangerous Luke Benbow with White quickly out of his goal to produce a good stop from the final shot.
Kaiman Anderson was off target with a diving header while, at the other end, Edmund Hotter who was slightly off the pace having been given a start by Law, saw a decent strike deflected just over the bar.
Stourbridge gave it go after the break and Anderson should have done better than shoot straight at White after he’d picked Rowe-Turner’s pocket while there were a few hearts in mouths when another effort was scrambled just wide of the Poppies goal following a corner.
However, with Lindon Meikle, Michael Richens and O’Connor now on the pitch, Kettering came on strong in the final 20 minutes.
Toseland was inches away from connecting with O’Connor’s shot across goal while the striker saw a low shot turned round the post by James Wren.
And when O’Connor did find the net from a Rhys Hoenes cross, the celebrations were ended before they even started thanks to an offside flag.
However, Kettering did wrap things up with 10 minutes to go.
Ben Milnes, who was impressive in the midfield, chased a ball down the left and his cross was met by the head of Hoenes at the near post and proved too hot for Wren to handle.
That ended any hopes Stourbridge may have had and ensured the Poppies made a return to winning ways after going a couple of games without scoring.
Job done as far as the FA Trophy is concerned but there will be much bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks, not least when these two clubs meet ‘for real’ in the league.
Poppies: White; Towers, Graham, Solkhon (sub Richens, 57 mins), Rowe-Turner; Kelly-Evans, Milnes, Hotter (sub Meikle, h-t), Toseland; Borg (sub O’Connor, 57 mins), Hoenes. Subs not used: Kelly, Elsom.
Stourbridge: Wren; Hayden, Micone, Brown; Westlake (sub Steele, 60 mins), Broadhurst, Forde (sub Birch, 54 mins), Thompson-Brown (sub Mills, 68 mins), Christophorou; Anderson, Benbow. Subs not used: Maher, Pierpoint.
Referee: Leslie Sinclair.
Goals: Toseland (15 mins, 1-0), Hoenes (80 mins, 2-0).
Bookings: Hotter, Richens (both fouls).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Declan Towers - it’s somewhat harsh to pick out just one member of the Poppies’ back four because all of them performed well. It was a resolute display in which they offered Stourbridge little in the final third. But summer signing Towers just continued what has already started. Strong in the tackle, calm on the ball, towering (no pun intended) in the air and an ability to read the game are all attributes which make him a highly impressive centre-half. He’s added something that was desperately needed to this Kettering defence.