AFC Telford United 3 Kettering Town 1 - Report and pictures
Read the full match report from AFC Telford's win over Kettering - the most high-profile sports fixture to go ahead in Shropshire over the weekend.
At a time when people are being urged to be good neighbours, AFC Telford United had reason to be grateful to Shrewsbury Town, the Bucks benefitting from the presence of not only Ryan Barnett, but also his namesake Ryan Sears.
Both loan signings were on target as the Bucks recorded a fine victory that helped, at least for the duration of the afternoon, to restore a feeling of normality for those present.
It was a day where the majority of the sporting world stood still; the National League’s decision that games should still go ahead despite fears about the coronavirus pandemic was a much-debated one. This fixture wasn’t immune from its effects, and almost went the same way as so many others when the visiting Poppies alerted referee Ed Duckworth that their on-loan midfielder Alistair Smith had not travelled and had self-isolated after collapsing with a fever.
The official gave both teams the option not to play, but managers Gavin Cowan and Paul Cox were both eager for the match to go ahead, and a crowd of just over 1,200 were entertained by a match that many have felt could be the last one for either side for the foreseeable future.
Cowan opted to shake things up following last week’s home defeat to Darlington; Sears stepped into a back three, playing on the right of the trio, with Barnett and Brendon Daniels operating not quite as wing-backs, but certainly with the aim of stretching Kettering out wide. Aaron Williams returned to pair Marcus Dinanga up front, and there was a new face on the bench too, with midfielder Jack Storer, recently released by Leamington, amongst the substitutes.
Barnett almost made it a dream start for the Bucks after just two minutes; released on the right, behind left-back Matt Taylor, he advanced and looked set to score, but the Poppies keeper Paul White blocked Barnett’s shot with his body.
Barnett was to torment Taylor sufficiently that the defender was substituted at half-time, and barely a couple of minutes later Barnett found the side netting when meeting a Daniels cross that evaded Williams. The trio combined again soon after, White saving Williams’ redirection of Daniels hard, low shot after he retrieved a Barnett cross.
The Poppies responded, bringing home keeper Russ Griffiths into action to collect a number of crosses and the occasional corner, but it was the Bucks who held the upper hand, and just after the half-hour they got the breakthrough.
From a Daniels corner on the right, captain Shane Sutton rose at the far post to head back across goal and Sears hurled himself headlong amongst the bodies to head home from no more than ten yards out. The defender enjoyed his celebration, having been a long-term injury absentee the moment must have felt good.
Within five minutes Barnett got in on the act, and doubled the lead. Once again given the opportunity to run at Taylor, he was able to get a shot away from the right of the penalty area, one that beat White, struck the inside of the post and went in.
The Poppies almost struck back immediately; Lindon Meikle, often a tormentor of the Bucks when at Eastwood Town and Mansfield Town, delivered an inviting cross to the far post that no-one in Kettering colours gambled on reaching. That sparked a flurry from the visitors, but recent arrival Griffiths looked assured in his handling.
Kettering made a double substitution at the interval, and new arrival Jason Law did have more success in getting to grips with the threat from Barnett, but the Bucks were in control. White almost dropped a cross at the feet of Dinanga, and opposite number Griffiths turned over a dipping Gary Stohrer effort as the game’s tempo dropped. The Bucks were soon to turn it up again, and on 63 minutes Williams celebrated his return to the side when he headed Barnett’s right-wing cross powerfully past White from no more than six yards.
That should have ended the contest, but the Poppies struck back on 68 minutes. Omari Sterling-James, on loan from Mansfield, took everyone by surprise, not least Griffiths, when he fired into the top corner from 20 yards out to the left of goal. Spurred by that, the Poppies mounted a revival that ought to have seen them cut the lead to 3-2 on 73 minutes; however, substitute Mike McGrath will probably wake in a cold sweat wondering how he headed wide when the Bucks lost him at a corner kick.
Sterling-James bent a similar long-range effort wide of the far post and from a dangerous free-kick position he beat the Bucks wall in front of him, but placed his effort too high, clearing the bar. McGrath too cleared the bar from a free-kick before Bucks substitute Matty Stenson should have put the game to bed, heading straight at White from a Barnett cross, the keeper turning the ball over for a corner.
Ultimately the Bucks remained well in control of matters, and with a lack of certainty around when and whether they might play again, they provided their home crowd with a fine display to look back on with satisfaction.
AFC Telford United: Griffiths, Sears, Daniels, Deeney, Sutton, White, Barnett, Walker (Royle 90), Dinanga (Stenson 79), Williams, Knights (Storer 75).
Unused substitutes: Lilly, McQuilkin.
Scorers: Sears (31), Barnett (36), Williams (63).
Kettering Town: White, Stohrer, Taylor (Law 45), Graham (c), Solkhon, Milnes, Nti, Mitford, Kennedy, Meikle (McGrath 45), Sterling-James.
Unused substitutes: Richens, Aghatise, Bennett.
Scorer(s): Sterling-James (68).
Referee: Ed Duckworth.
Assistants: Niall Smith; David Constable.