If you’re a regular reader of match reports on this website, you’re probably expecting a comprehensive account of the Dons’ first Blue Square Premier victory. However, because of what author Lemony Snicket would refer to as “a series of unfortunate events” – namely, a coach driver with an unhealthy interest in sitting in traffic, roadworks and an accident on the M25, and a combine harvester on the A43 – I got to Rockingham Road at 3.35 pm.
Thanks to what I think was BBC Radio Northampton, I was aware that by this time Danny Kedwell had headed in a Chris Hussey free-kick, on 7 minutes, but I knew nothing else about what had happened in the opening 35 minutes of action. By the time the Kettering stewards had decided that we were worthy enough to be let in, it was 3.42. The remaining minutes of the first half involved the home side peppering the Dons defence, and Paul Lorraine and Brett Johnson repelling them with relish. Kettering’s most potent attack weapon was the Exocet-like throw-in of Exodus Geoghagan, which made Rory Delap’s look positively pedestrian.
The second half began where the final three minutes of the first had left off. Kettering’s speedy winger Jean-Paul Marna often found himself in acres of space, Terry Brown having elected to start with a 4-3-3 formation, bringing Luke Moore in for Derek Duncan and Sam Hatton for Elliott Godfrey. Just as they had on Tuesday, the Dons looked narrow, and Marna and right-back Nicky Eaden were able to run unchallenged into dangerous areas on several occasions. Thankfully, Lorraine and Johnson were more than equal to the task of halting such forays, and they and James Pullen repelled the Poppies’ series of corners without too much trouble.
The Dons were looking to catch the home side on the break, but the final ball was often either overhit or fell short of its intended target. The only noteworthy efforts on goal in the first quarter of an hour were skied efforts from Hatton and Steven Gregory, although two Hussey corners had to be headed clear by the giant Geoghagan and the resulting loose balls tidied up by former Nottingham Forest defender Eaden.
On 66 minutes the Dons were given the chance to double their lead when Patrick Noubissie clumsily brought down Jay Conroy in the box, right under the nose of the referee. Mr Barratt seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to award the spot kick, and did so only after glancing at his assistant, who’d had had his flag across his chest from the instant Conroy went down. Finally, Barratt pointed to the spot, and Kedwell, who had been working tirelessly as usual, kept his shot low and straight to put the Dons 2-0 up.
Kettering might have felt aggrieved at being two down, and they conspicuously upped a gear. They applied more and more pressure on the Dons rearguard, forcing Pullen into two good saves, and Johnson and Lorraine into several last-ditch headers and clearances, and it seemed only a matter of time before the pressure would pay dividends. And with 16 minutes to go, substitute Danny Thomas nipped in between Lorraine and Pullen and got on the end of Francis Green’s cross, turning the ball into the net from close range. From being comfortably 2-0 ahead to hanging on for dear life in the blink of an eye – such are the fine margins that football thrives on.
Of the two sides, Kettering now looked the more likely to score again. But only a last-ditch tackle by James Jennings denied Kedwell his hat-trick, and then Lewis Taylor’s curling 20-yarder flew just wide of Lee Harper’s goal, reminding the home side that the Dons were equally capable of mounting dangerous-looking attacks. Thomas and Andre Boucaud fashioned a chance with a minute of normal time left, but the Dons survived the four minutes of added time and went home with all three points.
Kettering boss Mark Cooper will doubtless think that his side deserved a point (and unlike his side, he may have one), but the resolution of Johnson and Lorraine and the gargantuan efforts of Taylor and the indefatigable Kedwell in particular meant that Terry Brown’s side were not denied their first three-point haul of the season. Paying £16 to see 48 minutes of football and £10 to spend four hours on a hot coach suddenly seemed like a bargain.