VERDICT '“ Hall makes a big impact as inconsistent Poppies strike back
If you wanted Kettering Town's season summed up in quick time, you need only look at the last three days or so.
Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Merthyr Town looked to have all-but ended the Poppies’ hopes of claiming a play-off place in the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division.
Fast-forward three days and Marcus Law’s men turned in an impressive display to see off a very useful Frome Town team by a 4-1 scoreline to restore that little bit of belief into their confused supporters.
Confused because the inconsistency of this team is becoming extremely frustrating, no doubt Law himself would agree with that.
But there was a different dimension to Kettering on a freezing cold January night and it came in the form of new signing James Hall.
The former St Neots Town striker made an immediate impact with two goals and an energetic display as his busy performance and impressive movement made life difficult for the Frome defenders.
But his performance wasn’t the only good one. James Haran was injured in the warm-up and that meant a chance for left-back Jack Kelly who let no-one down while Dominic Langdon and Brett Solkhon were solid at the heart of the defence.
And once again, Rene Howe made things tick and set the ball rolling with a wonderful strike.
It may have finished 4-1 but take nothing away from Frome, they showed signs of why they have done so well this season.
But on this night, the Poppies and Hall in particular were in one of those clinical moods.
Frome started the better and they went so close to breaking the deadlock when the lively Jono Davies curled a shot just wide with Paul White beaten.
But the Poppies clicked into gear and, after Howe had sent a shot across goal and off target, they struck with three goals in the space of 16 minutes to take full control.
Kelly sent in a free-kick which was headed back into the danger area by Solkhon and Howe showed superb technique to hammer a volley into the top corner.
And it was 2-0 on 35 minutes as Howe headed the ball into the path of Matthew Barnes-Homer and, as goalkeeper Kyle Phillips closed him down, he sent in his cross which found Hall who calmly finished things off into an empty net.
With a real spring in their step and the fans behind them, Kettering were given the biggest of lifts in stoppage-time when the third goal all-but ended the contest.
Kelly was over another free-kick and Frome’s attempts to catch the Poppies offside backfired as Solkhon was left all alone to beat Phillips with a firm header into the corner.
Game over, you’d think. But, to their credit, Frome came out fighting after the break and they gave themselves hope just passed the hour when Jake Jackson’s neat flick created a bit of space for himself and he shot across goal and found the net with the aid of the inside of the post.
A big spell followed as Frome piled forward but the Poppies defence held firm and the closest the visitors came was when Davies blasted over from the edge of the box.
As the game became more stretched, gaps began to appear at the other end.
And Kettering should have finished it off when James Brighton was denied by Phillips after a neat move before Hall shot wide from close-range just seconds later.
But the game was over with 11 minutes to go as Hall took down a ball over the top. Once again, the visiting defence waited for a flag that never came and the new frontman calmly finished things off with a composed finish.
The Poppies fans hailed a new hero and Law was even afforded the chance to bring teenager Jack O’Connor, who had signed a long-term contract with the club earlier in the day, off the bench for the final few minutes.
This is the version of Kettering Town that would be more than capable of challenging for a top-five finish.
It’s the version no-one would dare write off. The unfortunate thing is, you never really know what will come next.
But in Hall, they may have found the sort of diminutive forward every team cries out for.
Whether his arrival has come too late remains to be seen, but if the Poppies perform at this level consistently then their season might not be over just yet...
Poppies: White; Bateman (sub Carvalho, 70 mins), Solkhon, Langdon, Kelly; Mulligan, Hicks, Brighton (sub Wilson, 84 mins), Howe; Barnes-Homer (sub O’Connor, 88 mins), Hall. Subs not used: Canavan, Snedker.
Frome: Phillips; K Miller, Roberts, Teale, Gregan; Green, G Miller; Davies, Bryant (sub, Jefferies, 61 mins), Knight (sub Fitzgibbon, 60 mins); Jackson (sub Kirby, 88 mins).
Referee: Robbie Dadley.
Goals: Howe (29 mins, 1-0), Hall (35 mins, 2-0), Solkhon (45 mins, 3-0), Jackson (62 mins, 3-1), Hall (79 mins, 4-1).
Bookings: Barnes-Homer (unsporting behaviour), Brighton (foul).