Kettering Town 2, Fleetwood Town 3
FLEETWOOD made a welcome return to winning ways thanks to a Jamie Vardy double, though Jean-Paul Marna also netted twice late on to make the final moments too close for comfort.
Fleetwood Town surged to a 3-0 lead by half-time, doubling their goal tally for the season in the process, only for Kettering to stage a dramatic comeback after effective substitutions.
In the end, latest signing Vardy’s first goals for Town and one by Gareth Seddon against his former club secured Town’s first win in four games.
The Nene Park ground was the venue for Town’s first ever game at non-league’s elite level last season, when it was the home of Rushden and Diamonds. Since their demise, near-neighbours Kettering Town have moved in but the Poppies are yet to blossom at their new home, with just one win this season.
Fleetwood boss Micky Mellon made four changes to the side beaten at Wrexham last Monday.
The return of Seddon brought Town’s lengthy injury list down to single figures, while Stefan Cox and Jamie Milligan were recalled and defender Paul Linwood made his first appearance of the season at the expense of club captain Steve McNulty.
Poppies boss Morell Maison, also stricken with injuries, made two changes from the goalless draw against Cambridge, when his side had kept their first clean sheet of the season. Patrick Noubissie and Ibra Sekajja started.
Town made the best possible start as Magno Vieira jinked down the left and delivered an inch-perfect cross to former Halifax flyer Vardy, who struck from close range.
Vieira was lively in the opening exchanges, getting a head to a Danny Holmes cross in the fourth minute, while he and Cox had the pace to give defender Phil Ifil some difficult moments on the right side of the home defence.
The Poppies produced the first moment of anxiety in Town’s defence in the 11th minute, when Scott Davies saved from Marna. Seddon caused problems for his old employers with strong runs down the left and through the middle, resulting in corners.
Town skipper Jamie McGuire, a strong presence in defence and attack, forced Lawrie Walker to tip a trademark drive wide after 24 minutes, and when Cox broke free of Ifill two minutes later his cross was turned wide by Vieira.
As Town continued to dominate, the Poppies’ fans began to show frustration with verbal attacks on manager Maison. His side responded just after the half-hour through Marna and the pace of Sekajja, the 18-year-old on loan from Crystal Palace who caught the eye in a poor first-half display from the hosts.
Town then appeared to take the game beyond Kettering’s reach with two goals in as many minutes.
First, Vardy caused mayhem down the left and set up Seddon to convert with his right foot in the 38th minute.
Before the Poppies had time to recover, Vardy netted his second from a tight angle on the left.
Worryingly for Seddon fans among the 58 travelling Cod Army members, the striker went down heavily in the centre circle but was able to continue after receiving treatment for a jarred elbow.
The half ended with Town well in control and they had a chance to extend their lead three minutes after the restart, when Milligan drilled a free-kick straight at Walker after Vieira had been impeded by Jerel Ifil.
The first of the substitutions came in the 52nd minute, when Jamie Clapham replacing Jaime Navarro. It made no immediate difference as two minutes later the ever-dangerous Vardy’s cross was headed wide by Vieira.
Linwood marred an assured performance with a clumsy challenge on Moses Ashikodi, resulting in a booking after 56 minutes.
Kettering showed more intent in front of their fans in the Dale Roberts Terrace and an Ashikodi header brought a rare save from Davies.
Sekajja continued to show the pace but inexperience let him down when it came to the final option. The game was held up as George Taft received treatment after a challenge by Cox, which brought the second Town booking on 63 minutes.
Five minutes later, Sekajja was replaced by Adam Cunnington and he immediately caused problems.
Cunnington, scorer in the opening day victory over Newport, became a major influence and his home side got the goal their second-half efforts deserved on 74 minutes.
A corner from the left was flicked on by Noubissie and Marna scored from close range.
The effervescent Marna was booked for a challenge on McGuire but found the target again in the 81st minute to bring his side back into the game, linking up with Cunnington.
Richard Brodie, who had replaced fellow striker Vieira for the final 15 minutes, received his fourth booking of the season with six minutes left.
Keith Briggs replaced Milligan with three minutes to go as Cunnington was named sponsors’ man of the match for 20 minutes’ work! Town survived a tense final period, during which Seddon was booked.