VERDICT - Poppies defy the odds to hit top spot
Kettering Town are doing their level best to show that they are the real deal this season.
Different tests are thrown up each week and, in general, the Poppies are passing them.
So what about when, after just 22 minutes, their goalkeeper gets sent-off, their captain has to go in goal and their striker has to play at centre-half for the remainder of the contest?
The answer: no problem.
With a passionate home support behind them, Kettering defied the odds to eventually beat Chesham United 3-1 at Latimer Park.
And, just for good measure, the victory put them on top of the Evo-Stik South League Premier. They’ll have worse days, that is for sure!
There was little sign of the drama that would eventually unfold as the Poppies went about their business in the opening quarter of the match.
Once they got going, they looked to have too much for their visitors and Lindon Meikle cracked an effort off a post before they went in front.
Aaron O’Connor, who was simply outstanding all afternoon, forced Hafed Aldroubi to tip a decent strike over the bar after a fine first touch and neat turn.
And, from the second of two corners that followed, the strike did beat the visiting goalkeeper with a firm header from Ben Milnes’ set-piece.
It seemed like business as usual. But then, the turning point.
Chesham won a corner but as the players waited for it to be delivered, Victor Osobu went down. Referee Mark Tinseley wasted no time in dishing out a red card to Poppies goalkeeper Paul White for an apparent retaliation.
The lack of complaints from White suggested he was guilty and subsequent video replays confirmed as much.
With no goalkeeper on the bench, Brett Solkhon - not for the first time in his Kettering career - took the gloves while Rene Howe moved to the heart of the defence alongside Gary Mulligan.
A reshuffle of epic proportions and a real test of Kettering’s organisation and discipline.
And, for the most part, they were comfortable. Indeed, the should have been further ahead by half-time as O’Connor saw a shot cleared of the line by Adam Pepera after a mistake from Aldroubi, Rhys Hoenes hit the bar with a header and then Pepera came to the rescue again, this time when O’Connor lobbed the goalkeeper after going through on goal.
Solkhon was rarely tested but the twist came nine minutes into the second half. Chesham won a free-kick virtually on the centre spot. And Matt Beavans cleverly spotted Solkhon off his line and clipped a superb strike over him and into the net.
That could have been the signal for a collapse, indeed in the past it would have been just that.
Instead, the Poppies stormed back as they were roared on by the home faithful.
They stayed solid at the back and, after a fine save from Aldroubi to deny the ever-improving Ben Toseland, they regained the lead.
The brilliant O’Connor did the leg work as he jinked into the area and his low cross was finished off by substitute Mathew Stevens from close-range.
Chesham piled the pressure on after that but the makeshift back four and Solkhon stayed solid.
And as the game moved into stoppage-time, the cherry was placed on top of a very tasty cake.
Howe won possession on the right and, forgetting his defensive responsibilities for a moment, he sparked an attack that eventually led to him pulling the ball back for O’Connor to finish the job.
A remarkable afternoon and victory was celebrated in style and rightly so.
It was one huge effort from everyone in a red shirt while the backing they received on the terraces suggests they are making people believe again.
Early days it may well be. But this Poppies team have some guts and that’s something you can’t put a price on.
Another test passed, now onto another in the form of Banbury United on Tuesday night...
Poppies: White; Berry, Mulligan, Solkhon, Toseland; Meikle (sub Bateman, 87 mins), Sundire (sub Stohrer, 68 mins), Milnes, Hoenes (sub Stevens, 70 mins); Howe, O’Connor. Subs not used: Baker, Brighton.
Chesham: Aldroubi; Pepera, Locke, Crilley; Osobu (sub Swales, 68 mins), Beavans, Watkins, Bates (sub Hutton, 57 mins), Dhillon; Toomey, Cathline (sub Bush, 59 mins). Subs not used: Green, Reynolds.
Referee: Mark Tinseley.
Goals: O’Connor (14 mins, 1-0), Beavans (54 mins, 1-1), Stevens (78 mins, 2-1), O’Connor (90 mins, 3-1).
Bookings: Berry, Locke, Beavans, O’Connor (all fouls).
Sending-off: White (retaliation).