VERDICT - Poppies turn up the heat with another home success
Kettering Town warmed the hearts of their freezing cold followers as their superb home form continued with a 2-0 success over Stratford Town at Latimer Park.
The Poppies made it 28 points from a possible 30 at home in the Evo-Stik South League Premier with what proved to be another deserved victory.
But it turned out to be a very good win as news from elsewhere filtered through.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Kettering aren’t even halfway through their league campaign yet.
But with leaders King’s Lynn Town and fellow high-fliers Tiverton Town and Slough Town suffering defeats, this turned out to be one of the more important home successes so far.
And, as previously observed, the Poppies were good value for it.
In general, they were solid throughout with man mountain Tom Marshall and Gary Mulligan producing no nonsense displays at the heart of the back four.
And going forward, they always carried a threat with Gary Stohrer a willing worker on the right side of midfield while Rene Howe seems to be recapturing his best form if the last two performances are anything to go by.
The Poppies were able to rest Brett Solkhon and top scorer Aaron O’Connor while also giving newest recruits Kalern Thomas and Ibby Akindi their debuts from the bench in a sure sign that the squad is getting the necessary boost in numbers it needs.
Kettering couldn’t have asked for a better start, although there was more than a hint of controversy about the way they opened the scoring after four minutes.
Ben Toseland swung in a corner from the right. It was missed by the defender at the near post and as goalkeeper Louis Connor gathered, Mathew Stevens barged him and the ball over the line.
Referee Richard Eley was in no doubt as he awarded the goal while Connor picked up a booking for his justified protests.
That gave Kettering the foothold they needed and they went on to control the remainder of the half.
Connor turned a Stohrer shot round the post while Stevens fired wide after a neat turn.
Lindon Meikle should have done better when he shot off target after good build-up play from Stevens and Howe but Kettering did have the ball in the net just before the break.
There was controversy in the build-up as James Hancocks, who was already on a booking, chopped down Stohrer but incredibly escaped with a final warning.
And another talking point followed as Howe headed home Toseland’s free-kick, only for effort to be ruled out for a foul even though two Stratford defenders appeared to collide with each other.
The second half was scrappy for long spells and Marshall produced a good block to deny Michael Taylor.
But it was Kettering who continued to pose the bigger threat with Stevens seeing an effort saved by Connor before he had the ball in the net from close-range but only after Marshall had been flagged for offside as he headed across goal.
The second goal was needed and, after substitute Rhys Hoenes had scooped over the bar, the game was put to bed when Howe capped an impressive display with an excellent curling finish into the far corner.
There was still time for a heroic block from Liam Bateman and a good low save from Paul White to preserve an eighth home clean sheet in the league.
And that made it a good, all-round day.
There is a long, long way to go in this season. But the Poppies are doing their best to turn any non-believers into believers.
Another important evening lies ahead on Tuesday as they take on Royston Town in their third home game in a row. Same again, please...
Poppies: White; Bateman, Mulligan, Marshall, Toseland; Stohrer (sub Thomas, 90 mins), Richens, Milnes, Meikle (sub Hoenes, 76 mins); Stevens (sub Akindi, 85 mins), Howe. Subs not used: Solkhon, O’Connor.
Stratford: Connor; Fry, Recci, Gallinagh, Thomas; Hancocks (sub Francis, h-t), Summerfield (sub Luckie, 69 mins); Marsden, Grocott (sub Bako, 56 mins), Stephens; Taylor. Subs not used: Ahenkorah, Evans.
Referee: Richard Eley.
Goals: Connor og (4 mins, 1-0), Howe (88 mins, 2-0).
Bookings: Connor, Marsden (dissent), Howe, Hancocks (both unsporting behaviour), Fry, Gallinagh, Marshall (all fouls).