The Northamptonshire side were, according to Ladbrokes, 20-1 outsiders for the Conference title at the start of the campaign. Last season they were stuck at the bottom of the table for three months after failing to win any of their first 14 games. They eventually recovered to finish 14th, but they were not expected to be among the front-runners this term.
The credit for the Poppies finding full bloom must go to their experienced manager, Peter Morris, who returned from King's Lynn in the summer for a second spell in charge at Rockingham Road. During his first reign he steered Kettering to successive Conference top-five finishes between 1987 and 1992.
Morris has rebuilt the squad which was left behind by his predecessor, Steve Berry. Among the newcomers were the former Lincoln City defender Mark Hone, the ex-Nottingham Forest and Preston midfielder Paul Raynor, and four players from his former club King's Lynn: Lee Hudson, Brett McNamara, Martin Matthews and Craig Hopkins.
The most promising new recruit brought to Kettering by Morris is, however, the 18-year-old forward Ben Wright. Discovered playing for a local village club, Deeping Rangers, Wright has had a trial at Leeds United, for whom he played two games in the FA Premier Academy Under-19 League. Another man to attract the scouts is the 21-year-old midfielder Matt Fisher, who joined the Poppies in the summer after leaving the Army.
A prolific former Kettering striker, Robbie Cooke, is also back at the club, this time in the roles of assistant manager and first-team coach. Tomorrow Kettering will be confident of maintaining their good run with a home game against struggling Barrow.
Kidderminster Harriers are rapidly losing their reputation as a good cup team. Removed from the FA Cup last week by an under- strength Plymouth Argyle side, on Monday they suffered a shock defeat in the FA Umbro Trophy, going down 2-1 in a second-round replay at the hands of the UniBond League First Division club Lincoln United.
Bedlington Terriers must return to non-League reality tomorrow, a week after their brave FA Cup defeat at Scunthorpe United. The Federation Brewery Northern League side entertain Mickleover Sports in the third round of the FA Carlsberg Vase. Elsewhere, the holders, Tiverton Town, must travel to Kent to take on Deal Town while last season's beaten finalists, Tow Law Town, face a trip over the Pennines to the former Football League club Workington.
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