Brackley Town 1 Kettering Town 1 - Jon Dunham’s review
A tale of two penalties, in the end a draw was probably about right.
Brackley Town and Kettering Town served up a watchable and competitive local derby in their first outings of 2021.
Ahead of kick-off, many would have fancied Kevin Wilkin’s Saints to maintain their fine form in the Vanarama National League North as they went into the game on the back of four successive wins, including a 3-2 success over leaders Gloucester City last Monday.
However, they were given a thorough examination by Paul Cox’s hard-working Poppies who more than matched their higher-placed opponents and showed just why they have become harder to beat in the last couple of months.
Kettering had the edge midway through the second half when the impressive Callum Powell was fouled by Ethan Coleman and picked himself up to beat Danny Lewis from the penalty spot.
That came less than a minute after Brackley had penalty claims of their own waved away after Tre Mitford went down in the box.
The Poppies looked fairly comfortable for the most part but it was the introduction of Matt Lowe who gave Brackley some impetus towards the end.
And, with two minutes to go, his cross struck the hand of Connor Johnson to give the hosts the chance to level with Shane Byrne duly obliging from 12 yards.
Beforehand, Kettering may well have taken a point if you’d given it to them. By the end, they will have been disappointed not to have taken all three.
Brackley’s resilience will have been the main positive for Wilkin as they found a way to keep their own unbeaten run going.
Overall, a draw was probably about right and, for different reasons, both managers will have been fairly content with another point on the board.
Not for the first time, Callum Powell stood out for Kettering.
Paul Cox has been busy in the transfer market in recent weeks and there’s little doubt that Callum Powell has been the pick of the signings.
He scored twice in the 3-3 draw at Alfreton Town last Monday and was on target again this time.
It capped another impressive display from the diminutive forward who caused the Brackley defence numerous problems in the No.10 role.
His close control and pace has given the Poppies an extra dimension, especially on the counter-attack while he has the ability to play either down the middle or on either wing.
One the challenges facing Kettering in the coming weeks may well be keeping him at the club because, in this sort of form, it would be a surprise if there isn’t some interest in him from higher levels.
Brackley’s winning run was ended but they remain one to watch.
There are real signs that Brackley’s season is clicking into gear, even if they had to settle for a point on this occasion.
In their six league matches since their FA Cup exit, they have taken 14 points from a possible 18 - a run that has seen them edge into the familiar territory of the play-off places.
Four wins in a row before this game are a sure sign that Wilkin’s men are beginning to find their stride and they have the games in hand to make further inroads at the top end of the table.
With the obvious quality they have in their squad, it will be a surprise if they aren’t in the shake up once again.
Midweek action now awaits for both teams.
Provided the weather stays friendly, the games will continue to come thick and fast for both clubs and both are due to be back in action on Tuesday night.
For Brackley, it’s another home game against Darlington who are in something of a false position at the wrong end of the table having been able to play just nine league matches so far.
The Poppies, meanwhile, face another very tough test on the road as they head to Boston United who sit in the top five, have been beaten just twice in the league and are one the favourites to challenge for top spot.
Finally, on a personal note...
For me and my family, the Christmas period has been extremely tough.
As you may or may not know, my dad Dave - a former Kettering Town director - passed away on December 29 after a four-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.
It has meant an enforced break from work but he would have been as happy as anyone to see me back at it at this game.
I just really want to say thank you to everyone at Kettering, other local clubs and all on social media who have taken the time to pass on their condolences and memories of him.
A lot of people from the past and present have shown an incredible amount of class by calling or messaging me and, for that, I will be eternally grateful. It has certainly made the early stages of the grieving process easier.
The football family is a no myth, it’s a real thing and I have seen it for myself over the past few days.
And to the players of Brackley and Kettering, thank you for giving me a decent game to watch. For a couple of hours, you made me focus on something else. I needed that and I enjoyed it.