The definitive ‘game of two halves’ was on show at Latimer Park and it didn’t end well for Kettering Town as they conspired to slip to a 2-1 defeat to unbeaten Gateshead.
It would have been easy to predict a long old season for the Poppies as they made the step up to the Vanarama National League North this season.
And while there shouldn’t be any serious panic just yet, it’s been a tough start.
But, sometimes, things are only as hard as you make it yourselves and, even now, it’s still difficult to understand how this one went so wrong so quickly.
The Poppies looked good in the first half.
They played some decent stuff at times, they attacked in numbers, they got themselves in front and, had it not been for visiting goalkeeper Brad James, the 1-0 lead they held at the break could have been bigger.
But, instead of carrying on from where they left off, it all went flat after half-time. In fact, James didn’t have a save to make.
Gateshead, meanwhile, clearly took things up a gear and, with the Poppies dropping deep and standing off, the inevitable happened with an equaliser then being followed by stoppage-time winner.
There had been little sign of what was to come after Nicky Eaden’s side had started so confidently.
It took just six minutes for them to break the deadlock. Gary Stohrer danced his way into the area and teed the ball up or Elliot Hodge, who curled a delightful cross towards the far post.
Marcus Kelly’s first-time effort was blocked but he made no mistake by stabbing home the rebound.
Gateshead did look good going forward, however, and JJ O’Donnell almost produced an immediate response with a half-volley, which just missed the target, and the same player went close again with a good strike from further out.
But it was Kettering who looked the more likely to add to their lead.
Michael Richens arrived on cue to get on the end of a Lindon Meikle cross, only for James to make a good reaction save.
And the goalkeeper was at it again just before the break when he was out quickly to block Kelly’s shot after he was given another sight of goal.
Nonetheless, there was plenty to be positive about at the break.
But things soon deteriorated. Aside from Dan Nti flicking a Kelly cross over the crossbar, the Poppies never really looked like scoring again.
And, at the other end, Gateshead gradually grew into things but it was all-too easy when they equalised on 66 minutes.
Scott Barrow sent a free-kick towards the back post and centre-half Toby Lees had all the time in the world to convert a volley.
Eaden threw on Alex Nimely for his debut but Kettering continued to struggle and they had a let-off when Greg Olley’s well-struck shot cannoned off the post.
However, just as it seemed the game was heading for stalemate, disaster struck in the second minute of stoppage-time.
Alex Nicholson was given far too much time to cross from the right and Joshua Kayode was on hand to prod home from close-range.
The Poppies tried to respond and Luke Graham nodded wide from a free-kick with their final opportunity but, by then, the writing was on the wall.
As previously observed, there shouldn’t be any need to panic just yet.
But the equation is fairly simple.
If Kettering play like they did in the first half for the rest of this season, then they will be fine.
But if they play like they did in the second half, then that long old season that many predicted will come to fruition...
Poppies: White; Stohrer, Graham, Cartwright, Skarz; Richens, Kennedy; Hodge (sub Nimely, 72 mins), Meikle (sub Solkhon, 87 mins), Kelly; Nti. Subs not used: O’Connor, Carta, Brighton.
Gateshead: James; Nicholson, Lees, Nelson, Barrow; Kayode, Agnew, Forbes (sub Oliver, 70 mins), O’Donnell (sub Blackett, 84 mins); Preston (sub Deverdics, 49 mins), Olley. Subs not used: Guthrie, Tear.
Referee: Ben Atkinson.
Goals: Kelly (6 mins, 1-0), Lees (66 mins, 1-1), Kayode (90 mins, 1-2).
Bookings: Agnew, Kelly, Nicholson, Kennedy (all fouls), Nti (unsporting behaviour).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Luke Graham - There will be question marks over the two goals that the Poppies conceded but, in general, Graham and Sam Cartwright performed pretty well at the heart of the defence. The issues mainly came at the other end as Kettering struggled to must up any noteworthy attacks in the second half. The back four were under pressure for long periods after the break and Graham headed and kicked everything in sight to try to keep Gateshead at bay. Overlooked at times last season, the experienced defender has shown his worth in the last two games, even if the points haven’t come.