Brett Solkhon added another crucial goal to his collection as yet another late show gave Kettering Town a priceless sixth win in a row as they edged out Rushall Olympic at Latimer Park.
The ‘Kettering Angel’ as boss Marcus Law likes to call him, was thrown on with just four minutes of normal time remaining as the Poppies looked to be heading for a frustrating stalemate.
And, just seconds after three minutes of stoppage-time had been signalled, Solkhon sent the majority of a healthy attendance into bedlam as he got the final touch on Aaron O’Connor’s deep cross to the back post.
No-one knew it until the celebrations had died down, but Solkhon’s intervention came at pretty much exactly the same time that Tamworth grabbed the only goal of the game to send second-placed Stourbridge to a 1-0 defeat.
In just one split second, the Poppies had gone from frustration to elation. In one-split second, a five point lead at the top of the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central became eight and that is still with two games in hand.
Law’s team are certainly doing all they can to turn even the most pessimistic of fans into believers. And, in truth, there really shouldn’t be any excuses from here. They should go on and win the whole thing now.
That’s easier said than done though and this game was another timely reminder that no-one will be throwing in the towel against them.
Rushall, a team with pretty much nothing to play for, made life extremely difficult for the Poppies. A defence well marshalled by former Kettering man Orrin Pendley ensured there were few clear-cut chances for the leaders and the visitors posed a threat at the other end as well.
It all started very nicely as Kettering opened the scoring after just four minutes.
O’Connor won a free-kick on the right, just outside the area. And seconds later, the frontman was wheeling away in celebration as he nodded home from close-range after Marcus Kelly’s delivery had caused a scramble in the six-yard box.
But Rushall responded well and Paul White made a fine stop to deny Daniel Waldron before the goalkeeper also did well to push the ball away at his near post after Massiah McDonald’s cross had taken a wicked deflection off Craig Stanley.
Kettering continued to look good going forward and Dan Holman seized on a loose ball before squaring to Adam Cunnington whose shot was saved by Matthew Sargeant.
However, the Poppies were stung on the half-hour. A long throw from AJ Adelekan seemed to take the defence by surprise and the dangerous Waldron punished them as he looped a header over the stranded White.
Law threw on Ben Milnes in place of Cunnington at the break and the Poppies had a chance to regain the lead when Sargeant picked up a back-pass but he then held on after O’Connor’s strike had deflected off the wall from inside the area.
It all became a bit niggly after that as Rushall worked hard to contain the hosts and it wasn’t until the 71st minute that a big chance was carved out with O’Connor unable to slide in and apply the final touch to Holman’s ball across goal..
Law continued to make changes in a bid to unlock the door with Lathaniel Rowe-Turner’s introduction enabling Marcus Kelly to push on into midfield.
But it was Solkhon who had the final say after he replaced Lindon Meikle in the 86th minute.
The Poppies legend went close when he forced Sargeant into a smart save at the back post.
But just a few moments later, he was bagging yet another goal to tell the grandchildren about as O’Connor turned the ball back to the far post after a corner had been cleared.
Plenty will be calling it already and you can understand why. But there is still work to do for the Poppies to finish the job.
But yes, they really should finish the job from here...
Poppies: White; Kelly-Evans, Towers, Stanley, Kelly; Richens, Meikle (sub Solkhon, 86 mins); Hoenes (sub Rowe-Turner, 80 mins), Holman, O’Connor; Cunnington (sub Milnes, h-t). Subs not used: Toseland, Stohrer.
Rushall Olympic: Sargeant; Lyttle, Hull, Pendley, Adelekan (sub Sammons, 90 mins); Smith, Smikle; McDonald (sub Lund, h-t), O’Callaghan, Maye; Waldron (sub Parker, 74 mins). Subs not used: Soleman, Charlton.
Referee: Samuel Kane.
Goals: O’Connor (4 mins, 1-0), Waldron (30 mins, 1-1), Solkhon (90 mins, 2-1).
Bookings: Richens, Hull (both fouls), Lund (kicking ball away).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Dion Kelly-Evans - the right-back has quietly gone about his business this season. And he was impressive again this time. He defended well when he had to, he won headers and he had plenty of space to get forward as well. His delivery could, perhaps, be better at times. But he has been one of the finds of the season for the Poppies.