VERDICT: Poppies hit back to move closer to the crown
Kettering Town made a swift return to winning ways and placed their fingertips on the Evo-Stik South League Premier Division Central title as they saw off Banbury United 3-0 at a windswept Latimer Park.
Having wasted the first of their games in hand on Stourbridge with a midweek defeat to Coalville Town, the Poppies were in no mood to repeat the trick as they put this game to bed in the first half to move 11 points clear at the top with just eight games remaining.
But they were given a helping hand by the visitors, who were more than in the game when the big turning point came on 19 minutes.
It had been tough for both teams up until then with the strong wind that swept across the ground all afternoon making it tricky for anyone to get a grip on proceedings.
However, it was the intervention of one of their former players that turned the game in Kettering’s favour.
Marcus Kelly sold Craig Stanley short with a pass on the left touchline and Edmund Hotter flew into the centre-half with two feet when he didn’t really need to.
To Stanley’s credit, he was up quickly but there was no escape for Hotter who, amidst the handbags that followed, was given his marching orders for the dangerous challenge.
There could be few arguments with the decision and the Poppies wasted little time in taking advantage.
Just two minutes later, a ball was clipped forward and Charlie Wise attempted to head the ball back to goalkeeper Jack Harding.
But Poppies top scorer Rhys Hoenes anticipated it and nipped in to go round Harding before scoring into the empty net from a narrow angle.
If that was good, even better followed on 26 minutes when Lindon Meikle’s cross was only half-cleared and Gary Stohrer took aim with a superb volley into the corner.
It was a thoroughly deserved goal for Stohrer who was highly impressive in a midfield role.
And if Banbury felt that the world was against them on this day, further evidence came in the space of a crazy 60 seconds.
A neat build-up ended with Ravin Shamsi sending a shot towards goal. Poppies goalkeeper Paul White looked beaten but Joe Iaciofano stuck a leg out to make sure and the effort was ruled out for offside.
And just seconds later, it was 3-0. Another Meikle cross was only headed up into the air and it fell at the feet of Brett Solkhon, restored to the starting line-up in place of the suspended Aaron O’Connor, and he made no mistake with a crisp finish.
That goal ended the game as a contest and the well-drilled Poppies did an excellent job of killing things off in the second period.
Aside from Dan Holman having an effort deflected wide and Solkhon volleying just over, there were few chances created.
But, ultimately, they retained possession and gave the visitors nothing at the other end.
Stanley made a fine block from a George Nash shot and then, in stoppage-time, Giorgio Rasulo was out of luck as he low strike cannoned off the post with White beaten.
The Poppies were simply at their ruthless best and now have a huge cushion at the summit.
The dream of gaining automatic promotion is beginning to turn into a reality.
They should now go on and finish the job...
Poppies: White; Kelly-Evans, Towers, Stanley, Kelly (sub Brighton, 85 mins); Richens; Stohrer (sub Toseland, 78 mins), Solkhon, Meikle (sub Bradshaw, 85 mins); Holman, Hoenes. Subs not used: Milnes, Rowe-Turner.
Banbury: Harding; Odhiambo, Wise, Henderson, Taylor; Nash (sub Finch, 73 mins), Rasulo; Shamsi (sub Kaziboni, 55 mins), Hotter, Awadh; Iaciofano. Subs not used: Anaele, Heapy, MacDonald.
Referee: Scott Tallis.
Goals: Hoenes (21 mins, 1-0), Stohrer (26 mins, 2-0), Solkhon (34 mins, 3-0).
Booking: Stanley (foul).
Sending-off: Hotter (serious foul play).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Gary Stohrer - one of the easier ones of the season this. Given a midfield role, Stohrer seemed to revel in the tough conditions. He covered a lot of ground, he made plenty of challenges and was at the heart of the majority of Kettering’s attacks. And his excellent all-round display was capped with a superb goal as he showed tremendous technique to convert a volley to make it 2-0. A good day for one of the good guys.