Kettering Town 5 Stratford Town 1 - Five Things We Learned
Kettering Town rounded off their title-winning campaign with an emphatic victory at Latimer Park.
But what did we learn?
This really can go down as a season of dominance for the Poppies.
The season is over, Kettering Town are the champions of the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central and they have done it with room to spare. This final-day success ensured Marcus Law’s team finished 14 points clear the summit. 94 points from 42 games, top scorers with 84 goals and the joint-second best defence in the league. When people look back at this league table, it will suggest that the Poppies were dominant pretty much from start to finish. And while it took some serious form to pull them away from Stourbridge through January and February, the final outcome never really looked in doubt.
Stratford’s decision to make numerous changes was totally understandable but the hosts showed no mercy.
It was no surprise to see Stratford Town make a number of changes to their squad for the final-day clash. Under the guidance of former Poppies boss Thomas Baillie, they have had an incredible season after rising up the league to clinch a play-off place with a game to spare. They had no chance of moving from fifth place so Baillie, quite rightly, held back a number of his first-team players to keep them fresh for Wednesday’s play-off semi-final at King’s Lynn Town. There was a real youthfulness to Stratford’s line-up but Kettering were clearly in no mood to show any mercy. Pretty much from minute one they were in control and, in the end, the champions simply had too much for the young visitors. It was a perfect finish for the Poppies while Stratford now have bigger fish to fry in the extended season.
Rhys Hoenes showed once again why he has been the standout performer of the campaign.
There’s no doubt about it, no league title has ever been won by an individual. It’s always a collective effort to take any team to the top of the tree. But you do, of course, need individual excellence to get you there. And while there have been some impressive performances from the Kettering players over the course of the season, Rhys Hoenes has stood out. His lightning pace has terrorised defences and his ability to switch from his more familiar role as a winger to a striker has been a key factor in the Poppies’ success. That switch was enforced on Marcus Law at the start of the season due to Aaron O’Connor’s injury in pre-season and Hoenes took on the striking role with devastating results as he helped Kettering get off to a flying start. He has maintained that form and, fittingly, the season ended with Hoenes standing out with two goals - the second of which was a magnificent strike into the top corner. Don’t be surprised if he walks away with an player-of-the-year award or two in his possession.
There is one more game to play and one of the biggest trophies in football is on offer.
The regular season may be over but there is still one more match for the Poppies to play on Saturday. They will take on Premier Division South champions Weymouth at Latimer Park in the Evo-Stik League South Championship Match. And for the winners awaits the gigantic Southern League shield. With the introduction of the Central Division for this season, new trophies were introduced for the two champion clubs in the Central and South. But, the shield that was always awarded to the Premier Division champions is now up for grabs. It should be an interesting encounter. Kettering and Weymouth were two of the clubs who missed out in that incredible battle between five teams in the Premier Division last season. They have made no mistake this time around and will now meet again before they head into Step 2.
It seems as though plans for next season are already under way and the Poppies will have to be ready.
My final question to Marcus Law during the post-match interview was to get an early indicator for the plans for the summer as Kettering get ready for life in the Vanarama National League North. And while the manager didn’t go into great detail, he confirmed there is a board meeting scheduled for tonight and next season will be on the agenda. There will be plenty of work to do over the summer when it comes to keeping current members of the squad and, no doubt, bringing in some new recruits. Whatever the plans are, the Poppies will have to be ready for what has been proven to be a big step up. An interesting couple of months lie ahead.