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Strangers in the Night
By: Rob Sedgwick
GRIMSBY'S expected onslaught against a terminally weakened Kettering never quite materialised at a rebranded Nene Park. Leading 2-0 from a Hearn strike in each half and with the regulation three minutes' injury nearly up, the Mariners almost contrived to lose an unlosable game.
Town conceded a late corner, and Bridges got his head to the ball to get what looked like a late meaningless consolation goal for the Poppies. However the Mariners conceded a free kick almost straight away from the kick off, and it was launched into the box. Hughes-Mason powered a header goalwards which McKeown did well to parry. The ball rebounded to Koo-Booth standing just feet away from the goal, and he somehow put the ball over the crossbar when virtually any sort of contact would have directed it into the net.
The only thing which really separated the sides was the quality of the finishing. In Liam Hearn, who amazingly had not scored away from Blundell Park this season, Grimsby possessed the best finisher on the pitch, whose two strikes won the game for Town. Other than that there was little to choose between the sides, and in the first half a Kettering team, supposedly made up of complete strangers who barely knew one another's names, had played the better football.
Nene Park, a ground Town had never won at before, has been rebranded as Kettering's ground. Any reference to Rushden has been airbrushed away and the fact that another team used to play at the "Home of the Poppies" has been quietly forgotten. You have to wonder whether any of those who were chanting "Kettering till I die" used to sing the same lyrics for another team....
As night descended the floodlights seem to have been put on their lowest possible setting and all the lights in the stands were turned off. Whether this was to lower their carbon footprint or electricity bill is anyone's guess, but at any rate the arena was several shades too dark to have played cricket or tennis on, and the players would definitely have been dragged off for bad light in either of those sports.
Town started with both new loan signings Luke McCarthy and Will Antwi. The former replaced the injured Darran Kempson, and the latter Serge Makofo who was also suffering from a knock. Coulson swapped to the left side of midfield, allowing you Luke McCarthy to start the game on the right wing.
Kettering started nervously and in the first few minutes it looked like Town might start to accumulate the rugby score many of the 300+ Town fans had assembled hoping, if not expecting, to see. McCarthy was prominent in some early moves, and Coulson had an early shot which went just over the bar, but it was an individual piece of skill by Hearn which gave Town the lead. Grimsby's leading scorer received the ball on 13 minutes, shrugged off a defender and powered it low past the 'keeper to open the floodgates for Town.
Within a minute the dangerous Hughes-Mason should have equalised for Kettering but blasted a good chance over the bar, and the same player missed an ever better opportunity on 30 minutes when the ball similarly ended going just over the goal. Grimsby rarely seemed to get out of their half in the first 45 minutes, and kept giving away free kicks in dangerous positions.
Coulson came close to scoring with a late free kick for Town. His ball whipped across the box, just avoided several Town feet, and almost went in at the far post having eluded everyone.
After the break Kettering skimmed the cross bar with a flukey cross-shot which beat McKeown, but soon after Town improved and began to look the better team and Hearn should have taken the lead, but his shot hit the side netting.
The Mariners did double their lead on the hour mark. Kettering failed to clear a Town corner, and the ball fell to Hearn who drilled it in from a narrow angle. Town looked likely to add to their lead but Kettering never faded and the extra fitness, experience and fact that they knew their team mates' names never really showed. In fact Town were using every possible opportunity to waste time for which they received several warnings from the ref (who allowed no extra injury time whatsoever beyond the customary 3 minutes).
With 15 minutes to go Dawkin went past four Town players and his shot was spilled by McKeown and hacked away for a corner. Then deep into injury time Duffy headed the ball "out" despite the fact that it looked already to have crossed the line off a Kettering boot. From the resulting corner Kettering headed what looked like a consolation, until the ref awarded a free kick and the Poppies should have scored what would have been a deserved equaliser.
Town though survived by the skin of their teeth and recorded a rare away victory. They next play Stockport on Tuesday and Salisbury away on Saturday, two games they would be expected to win.
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