VERDICT: Poppies book their place in Hillier Cup final
A fine second-half display saw Kettering Town book their place in this season’s NFA Hillier Senior Cup final as they saw off Vanarama National League North rivals Brackley Town 3-0 at Latimer Park.
Those in attendance, and there weren’t many of them, were treated to a very watchable contest as both clubs still fielded strong squads for the semi-final clash.
And, in the end, it was the Poppies who just had the edge.
There were some impressive individual displays with Mansfield Town loanee Alistair Smith impressing in a role just behind striker Tre Mitford while centre-half Jordan Aghatise - who was recommended to Paul Cox by former Kettering defender Exodus Geohaghon - and Eastwood left-back Sam Meakin certainly didn’t look out of place.
Those performances certainly will have given Cox something to think about ahead of this weekend’s trip to Altrincham.
But it was Brackley who looked the more likely to find a breakthrough in a well-contested opening period and Jack Bennett, who replaced the rested Paul White in the Kettering goal, capped a promising performance with a fine save to deny Carl Baker.
Bennett also had to back-peddle to tip the ball over the crossbar after the lively Lorrell Smith’s shot looped up after taking a deflection.
However, Kettering soon made their mark in the second period.
Another Mansfield loanee, Jason Law, forced Danny Lewis into his first real save with a good strike from 20 yards before the deadlock was broken on 67 minutes.
There was a big shout for handball as captain-for-the-night Connor Kennedy fired the ball towards goal from the edge of the penalty area.
Play went on and Lindon Meikle crossed from the right with Mitford applying the finish at the near post.
And the lead was doubled just a minute later.
This time, it was Law who did the leg work with a neat bit of skill down the left. He sent a low cross into the area and Mitford created a bit of space for himself before beating Lewis from close-range.
Brackley never really looked like replying after that as the Poppies remained solid and the game was wrapped up with seven minutes to go.
And it was a moment for Lewis to forget as he allowed Ben Milnes’ 25-yard strike to go through his hands and into the net.
Things will, no doubt, be a lot different for both sides when they meet again in the league in three weeks time.
But Kettering do at least have a cup final to look forward to when they will meet Daventry Town, who claimed a 2-1 success at Peterborough Sports in the other last-four clash.
Poppies: Bennett; Richens, Aghatise, McGrath, Meakin; Kennedy, Milnes; Meikle (sub Nti, 75 mins), A Smith, Law; Mitford. Subs not used: O’Connor, Solkhon, Taylor, Stohrer.
Brackley: Lewis; Audel, Langmead, Walker (sub Myles, 63 mins), Franklin (sub Murombedzi, 63 mins); Fairlamb, Armson, Maye, Baker; Daire, L Smith. Subs not used: Dean, Byrne, Lowe.
Referee: Joe Woolmer.
Goals: Mitford (67 mins, 1-0), Mitford (68 mins, 2-0), Milnes (83 mins, 3-0).
Bookings: A Smith, Murombedzi (both fouls).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Alistair Smith - the young Mansfield Town midfielder was handed his first start for the Poppies and impressed. He showed a good touch, picked his passes and looked a constant threat playing in the role just behind striker Tre Mitford, who also had a good evening. If this is anything to go by, it could prove to be a smart bit of business from Paul Cox.