VERDICT: Poppies produce a stunning fightback to claim a point
Kettering Town staged a superb second-half fightback as Paul Cox’s unbeaten start to life as the club’s manager continued with an incredible 4-4 draw against Blyth Spartans at Latimer Park.
After two wins in a row, the honeymoon period looked to be over at half-time.
The Poppies were outplayed and outfought on the boggy surface in the opening period while Blyth looked sharp while being helped by having the best player on the pitch in their line-up with Callum Roberts producing a virtuoso display.
But, whatever Cox said to his players in the home dressing-room at the break clearly had the desired effect as they roared back to eventually clinch a point - in the end they might even have nicked it.
Either way, Cox was given a glimpse of what has caused the Poppies to struggle at the wrong end of the Vanarama National League North in that first half.
But he would have also been highly impressed with the reaction his players delivered in the second period - it was the sort of character that has been sorely missing before now.
Opting to stick with the same starting line-up that picked up a fine 2-1 victory at Guiseley the previous week, Cox probably couldn’t believe what he was seeing in the first half.
Right from the off, Blyth looked the hungrier side. They looked after the ball better and, when the chances came, they were ruthless.
There had already been a couple of close calls before the visitors deservedly took the lead on 27 minutes.
Former Newcastle United man Roberts showed his class throughout as he gave Joe Skarz a torrid time down the Kettering left and he broke the deadlock, cutting in from the right and planting a low shot into the bottom corner.
The Poppies initially reacted pretty well to going behind with Joel Carta sending a couple of efforts over the crossbar while Lindon Meikle curled another effort wide.
But Blyth looked to have wrapped the game up with two more goals in the final eight minutes of the half.
Roberts made the second with his free-kick skimming off a Kettering head and then being converted by a well-taken volley from substitute Ryan Hutchinson at the far post.
And that man Roberts made it 3-0 as he fired a magnificent left-footed shot into the top corner after the home defence made the fatal mistake of standing off him.
Game over, or so some of us thought!
It really would have been beyond the Poppies had Robbie Dale’s shot found the net instead of cannoning off the post soon after the restart.
But the lifeline arrived on the hour when a Ben Milnes corner caused panic in the Blyth area and when the ball was looped back up, Michael McGrath was there to head home.
And the Poppies faithful really came alive seven minutes later when, from another corner, the ball was flicked on and Luke Graham was left with the simple task of nodding in from a couple of yards.
Kettering were very much on the front foot but the brilliant Roberts looked to have snuffed out their hopes with 16 minutes to go.
He broke forward after a Poppies corner had been cleared and eased past a couple of challenges. His first effort was blocked but, on the rebound, he produced a wonderful chip over Paul White and the home defenders to restored the two-goal advantage.
Back came Kettering though and they made it 4-3 with Lindon Meikle scoring from close-range and he was only denied an equaliser when Olly Scott produced a remarkable block on the goal-line after Aaron O’Connor had created the chance.
But the Poppies kept plugging away and, in the final minute of normal time, Tre Mitford made his mark.
On as a substitute, the frontman chose the perfect time to grab his first goal for the club as he got the final touch after fellow substitute Dan Nti had done the hard work of getting to the by-line and sending a low cross into the danger area.
That sparked pandemonium and, while they gave it a go to try to find the winner, it was in the end a very good point earned.
Kettering had come back from the dead, another sure sign that their fortunes are being revived under the new regime. Long may that continue...
Poppies: White; Stohrer, Graham, McGrath, Skarz (sub Richens, 66 mins), Kennedy; Meikle, Carta (sub Nti, h-t), Milnes (sub Mitford, 82 mins), Kelly; O’Connor. Subs not used: Solkhon, Sebbeh.
Blyth: Foden; Evans, Ritson, Devitt (sub Hutchinson, 13 mins), Callaghan; Scott, Hunter; Dale, Hawkins (sub Mullen, 83 mins), Roberts; Sweet (sub Amantchi, 77 mins). Subs not used: McGlade, McKeown.
Referee: Richard Holmes.
Goals: Roberts (27 mins, 0-1), Hutchinson (37 mins, 0-2), Roberts (45 mins, 0-3), McGrath (60 mins, 1-3), Graham (67 mins, 2-3), Roberts (70 mins, 2-4), Meikle (74 mins, 3-4), Mitford (89 mins, 4-4).
Bookings: Kennedy (unsporting behaviour), Mullen, O’Connor (both fouls),
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Connor Kennedy - just like in the win against Bradford Park Avenue, the midfielder seemed to revel in the tough conditions. Even in such a poor first half, he was one who showed the right work ethic and he carried it on after the break. He broke play up well and used the ball but his desire to get around the pitch was the thing that stood out the most. The Poppies fought back brilliantly and Kennedy was one of the main driving forces.