Review of the season - Kettering Town

It was celebration time for Kettering Town as they clinched the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central title in emphatic fashion. Pictures by Peter Short
It was celebration time for Kettering Town as they clinched the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central title in emphatic fashion. Pictures by Peter Short

For Kettering Town, it was very much a case of ‘mission accomplished’ as, with the pressure on, Marcus Law and his squad delivered the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central title.

And, in the end, it was delivered in emphatic style as they finished no less than 14 points clear of the chasing pack to secure the Poppies’ return to the Vanarama National League North.

Tom Knowles dramatic late goal, which secured a crucial 2-1 victory at Stourbridge in Janaury, was one of the key moments in Kettering's campaign

Tom Knowles dramatic late goal, which secured a crucial 2-1 victory at Stourbridge in Janaury, was one of the key moments in Kettering's campaign

Having missed out in the play-offs, despite accumulating 97 points and scoring over 100 league goals, last season, there was clearly a burning desire in Law to give the club and their demanding fans what they wanted.

The restructure of the leagues last summer made Kettering part of the new Central league and, when all was said and done, they simply had too much for the rest.

Law kept faith with a number of members of last season’s squad while adding some key summer signings with the likes of Marcus Kelly, Dion Kelly-Evans, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Declan Towers all coming into the fold.

And even the loss of star striker Aaron O’Connor to injury in pre-season couldn’t prevent the Poppies from getting off to the perfect start.

Rhys Hoenes was one of the stars of a fine season for the Poppies

Rhys Hoenes was one of the stars of a fine season for the Poppies

Kettering stamped their mark on the division early on as they won their first six matches - it was a run that set them up for the remainder of the campaign.

There was a welcome run in the FA Cup, which was ended at the hands of National League side Aldershot Town but Law’s focus was always on automatic promotion.

There were setbacks along the way but when they came, the right reaction always followed. The Poppies didn’t lose back-to-back league games all season, that in itself is the stuff of champions.

Stourbridge emerged as the main contenders in the middle part of the season but once Kettering had strengthened their squad with the likes of Dan Holman and Craig Stanley coming into the fold, they kicked on and eventually pulled away in the new year.

The dramatic 2-1 victory over local rivals AFC Rushden & Diamonds on New Year’s Day was a major shot in the arm for everyone – not least the supporters.

But the key moment really came on January 26 when the Poppies produced a stunning late fightback to win 2-1 at Stourbridge with loanee Tom Knowles scoring a now infamous 25-yard free-kick with one of the few touches of the ball he had in a Kettering shirt.

Five wins in a row followed and, from then on, the final outcome was never in doubt before the inevitable happened on April 13 when a 1-0 victory at Halesowen Town confirmed them as champions.

For Law, the title success was possibly met with as much relief as it was joy. For him, this was a case of job done.

And it was a job very well done.

The Poppies were highly-fancied to win the title but having the tools in place is one thing, getting the job done to a high standard is a different thing altogether.

In the end, it was dominant and now everyone can look forward to that move up to Step 2 - it’s a move up that has been well earned.

Jon Dunham’s unofficial player-of-the-season: Rhys Hoenes.

As you’d expect from a title-winning campaign, there were plenty of impressive individual displays. But Rhys Hoenes stood out, pretty much right from the start.

More commonly known as a winger, Hoenes was thrust into a lone striker’s role at the beginning of the campaign after an untimely injury to Aaron O’Connor in the final pre-season friendly.

With a game plan in place to utilise his electric pace, Hoenes grabbed the only goal of the game in the opening-day win at Hitchin Town.

That set the tone for what was to follow and such were his performances in that striking role during the Poppies’ flying start, he continued in that attacking role throughout the campaign.

Hoenes cemented his place in the hearts of the Kettering supporters when he headed home the dramatic winner against AFC Rushden & Diamonds at Latimer Park on New Year’s Day.

And it was fitting that he should be the man to score the goal that secured the title and promotion when Kettering were victorious at Halesowen Town in the middle of April.

In the end, the winger-turned-striker bagged 22 goals in all competitions and had a hand in plenty more.

A player you’d love to have in your side and one you’d hate to play against – Hoenes played the starring role in a memorable campaign.