Following a winless run of nine games lasting since the opening day, Kettering Town defeated in-form Alfreton Town 2-1 at Latimer Park.
Nicky Eaden’s team made a flying start to the match when, after 23 seconds, Daniel Nti chased his own heavy touch, beating Reds goalkeeper Jack Atkinson to the ball before being upended and tucking the resulting penalty into the corner.
Moments later, a loose clearance by Josh Wilde was intercepted by Ben Milnes, who played in Marcus Kelly to his left before the experienced midfielder found the bottom corner, giving the Poppies a surprising early 2-0 lead.
Alfreton’s first chance came on 11 minutes as Sam Cartwright blocked Dominic Smith’s shot on the line in the aftermath of a goalmouth scramble which was sparked by Paul White being unable to gather a loose ball.
One minute afterwards, a Michael McGrath mis-kick played Amari Morgan-Smith in behind, and the dangerous striker bent his shot a yard over the bar from just inside the box, aiming for the top corner.
After 27 minutes, Shane Killock deflected an Nti cross over the bar with a now match-fit Aaron O’Connor waiting on the edge of the six yard box.
The pace of the match slowed down for a period of 10minutes, with Kettering creating half-chances, the first from McGrath who was inches away from heading in a corner, the second from O’Connor who headed over from a Milnes cross after a one-two with Gary Stohrer.
Shortly before half-time, O’Connor beat the offside trap and curled his shot past the right post from the edge of the box, before Nti crossed the ball just behind his strike partner, who was on the edge of the six yard box.
One minute before half-time, a free-kick was given away by Stohrer 19 yards out. Daniel East laid it off and the ball was placed into bottom corner by Morgan-Smith, cutting Kettering’s lead down to 2-1 at the break.
Early in the second half, Kelly free-kick aiming for Cartwright bounced around before being headed just wide by a defender before an O’Connor cross from the right was whipped in just ahead of Kelly at the back post.
After an hour, Milnes took too long in possession and was robbed by Morgan-Smith, whose shot from the edge of the area hit the post to Paul White’s right, before McGrath collided with the target man as White cleared, with no penalty being awarded.
Soon after, Lindon Meikle played through O’Connor, who poked his shot straight at the on-rushing Atkinson and O’Connor had another shot saved from a Meikle cross, after the Poppies had counter-attacked from an Alfreton free-kick, started by a 30-yard diagonal ball from Milnes.
Morgan-Smith was once again through on goal but put his shot wide past White, who had come out to meet him, before Connor Kennedy and Milnes both found the arms of Atkinson with tame long-shots.
Five minutes before full-time, Meikle turned his defender but had his shot from eight yards blocked before substitute Brett Solkhon headed two yards wide from the resulting corner.
In the final minute of normal time, Reds substitute Nyle Blake saw his cross from the edge of the box palmed away by White and hooked clear by Milnes, before Meikle counter-attacked from the halfway line with a fine run, however he blasted his shot over the bar.
Kettering defended their slender lead well in the final moments of added time, earning a well-deserved three points against a team towards the top end of the table.
A draw for former Kettering manager Marcus Law’s Bradford Park Avenue means that Eaden’s side are two points ahead of the relegation zone and in high spirits ahead of next week’s FA Cup tie at home to Sutton Coldfield Town.
Kettering: White; Cartwright, McGrath, Skarz; Stohrer, Kennedy, Milnes, Meikle (sub Hodge, 90+3 mins), Kelly; Nti, O’Connor (sub Solkhon, 78 mins). Subs not used: Brighton, Vidal, Sebbeh.
Alfreton: Atkinson; Smith, Qualter, Killock (sub Johnson, 70 mins); Clackstone, Lynch, Thacker (sub Branson, 45 mins), East, Wilde; Morgan-Smith, Tomlinson (sub Blake, 73 mins). Subs not used: Witham, Williams.
Referee: Scott Simpson.
Goals: Nti pen (1 min, 1-0), Kelly (4 mins, 2-0), Morgan-Smith (45 mins, 2-1).
Bookings: Atkinson, Branson (both fouls), Kennedy (dissent).
Man of the match: Daniel Nti – Despite a very slow start to Kettering’s season, new signing Daniel Nti has impressed. The forward works hard for the full 90 minutes, chasing every ball and competing in the air with all defenders, even those taller than him. Linking up with a rejuvenated Aaron O’Connor, Nti created problems for the Alfreton defence throughout, the first being after 23 seconds when he won a penalty which he cooly placed to goalkeeper Jack Atkinson’s left. In every game Nti has played for Kettering he has created chances from nothing and chased lost causes, without a strike partner to aid him. The reintroduction of O’Connor to the line-up adds a clinical side to Nicky Eaden’s team which they have been missing since the beginning of the season.