Kettering Town ended their successful Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central campaign with a dominant 5-1 win over play-off hopefuls Stratford Town.
The Blues, managed by former Poppies manager Thomas Baillie, named a rotated starting 11 with their upcoming play-off semi-final in mind and it showed as they were beaten convincingly after a strong performance from Kettering.
Stratford had the first chance of the game when Lathaniel Rowe-Turner scrambled off the line under pressure from Daniel Creaney a few minutes in.
Kettering took the lead after a quarter of an hour when a Ben Milnes header from just inside the Stratford half set Rhys Hoenes through on goal, who smashed the bouncing ball past Rajan Shergill from 15 yards with his weaker left foot.
On 33 minutes, a dangerous Creaney free-kick on the left side of the D flew inches over the top-left corner, having left Paul White beaten.
Poppies captain Brett Solkhon doubled his team’s lead 10 minutes before half-time, finding the bottom right-hand corner from ten yards after being played through by Aaron O’Connor.
A Marcus Kelly corner found Michael Richens in space on the penalty spot, whose header crashed into the bar, ending a controlled and comfortable first-half for Kettering.
Stratford retaliated shortly after half-time through Kian Williams, who rolled the ball past Paul White after a great run from Kai Williams which began in his own half.
However it was soon 3-1 to the Poppies when Kelly found Craig Stanley free at the back post with a deep free-kick from the right, which allowed the defender to head into a half-empty net, left open after Shergill was injured in the build-up.
The match looked all but over just before the hour mark when Solkhon played through Hoenes, who found the top-right corner with a curling shot which beat substitute goalkeeper Ross Etheridge from just inside the box after the pacey striker had cut-in skilfully.
One minute later and Kettering led 5-1 after O'Connor tapped-in a low Hoenes cross.
The hosts eased through to the final whistle, dominating and creating half-chances but not really testing Etheridge, seeing-out a convincing 5-1 victory.
The Poppies will go into their game against Premier Division South winners Weymouth next week full of confidence, whilst Stratford face a tough away trip to King’s Lynn Town in their play-off semi-final on Wednesday.
Poppies: White; Stohrer (sub Massaro, 72 mins), Stanley, Rowe-Turner, Kelly (sub Brighton, 72 mins); Meikle, Kelly-Evans, Milnes (sub Richens, 19 mins), Solkhon; Hoenes, O'Connor. Subs not used: Toseland, Bradshaw.
Stratford: Shergill (sub Etheridge, 53 mins); Fisher, Coates, Fishwick, McDonald; Kian Williams, Fry, Faulkner, Kai Williams (sub James, 59 mins); Creaney, Singer. Subs not used: Wilson, Grocott, Cox.
Referee: Oliver Mackey.
Goals: Hoenes (1-0, 16 mins), Solkhon (2-0, 37 mins), 7 (2-1, 47 mins), Stanley (3-1, 50 mins), Hoenes (4-1, 58 mins), O'Connor (5-1, 59 mins).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Rhys Hoenes – Kettering’s top scorer showed the quality that he has shown all season against Stratford, scoring a brace. The speedy winger-turned-striker was a constant danger to the opposition defence, who struggled to contain him as well as struggling to manage the windy conditions. Both of his goals were extremely well-taken, a half-volley on his weak foot and then a curling effort into the top corner after some great footwork. He was unlucky not to score a hat-trick, and is definitely deserving of the man-of-the-match award.