Relegated, Promoted and back to the Conference at first attempt
The 2000-2001 season started badly for Morris and Kettering, four defeats from the first four matches and not a single goal scored by the Poppies, the supporters feared the worst, a season-long struggle and then relegation from the Conference was on the cards. The first win of the season came ironically, against Kingstonian, but the Trophy winners were also in for a season of struggle and Poppies lost the next game to Hayes, things were now beginning to look very bleak for Kettering Town.
The poor results continued and Morris’ support from the fans grew increasingly fragile as the club slumped to the bottom of the table, confidence in his managerial abilities was fading fast and only the Chairman and an increasingly smaller number of supporters refused to see the inevitable conclusion if he was allowed to continue as manager.
Morris had one last throw of the dice, hoping another FA Cup run could turn the season around, as by now the home attendances were hovering just over the 1,000 mark. A 0-0 away draw in the 1st Round of the Cup brought Hull City to Rockingham Road for a replay and Kettering won 1-0 courtesy of a Matt Fisher goal in front of 3,358. Ironically it was to be Kettering’s last win for almost three months.
Bristol City were the hosts for the 3rd Round tie and proved too strong for the Poppies with Darren Collins scoring Kettering’s goal in a 3-1 defeat in front of 7,641 at Ashton Gate. It was back to the reality of the league struggle and stumbling into the New Year with seven defeats in a row, including the final humiliation of being dumped out of the FA Trophy at the first hurdle 3-0 by Histon.
The Trophy defeat was the last straw for many Kettering supporters, angry at what they saw was the lack of intervention by the club Chairman/owner Peter Mallinger, as rift between the manager and players had already come to a head, with several missing from the teamsheet in the debacle at Histon. The Chairman’s reply was to dismiss the protests by the Poppies supporters as being ‘a noisy few’, but worse was to come.
As the ‘noisy few’ grew in number and the protests became more high profile with the news media covering demonstrations at the ground by a dedicated group of Poppies fans, the Chairman refused to remove Morris and Kettering lost two more league matches, the latter, a 5-1 hammering by Morecambe at Rockingham Road. That was the final straw for club and fans and even the Chairman had finally had enough, Morris departed Rockingham Road leaving the club rooted at the foot of the table, the love-affair between Kettering Town and Peter Morris was irreparably over.
Shutt to the rescue, almost .. but Kettering are still relegated
The club was in dire straits both on and off the field, and needed a miracle to save them from the drop, when Carl Shutt stepped forward with the help of captain Colin Vowden to try to rescue Kettering from relegation. The size of the task was brought home to Shutt in Kettering’s next match, another 5-1 hammering, this time away to Dagenham & Redbridge, it was indeed going to take a miracle at this late stage of the season. Shutt certainly had chosen to take his first steps into football management the hard way.
Shutt was new to club management, a vastly-experienced Football League player, including a League Championship medal with Leeds Utd, however he was taking over the hot seat for the first time and it proved to be a baptism of fire for the Yorkshireman. Despite eight wins and three draws from their last sixteen games, Kettering paid the ultimate price and were relegated from the Conference, finishing in 20th position.
Many supporters feared the worst for Kettering after being relegated from the top-flight of non-league football for the first time in almost 30 years and with the club’s financial difficulties well documented, things looked pretty bleak for the future of Kettering Town Football Club in the new millennium.
Shutt begins task of regaining Conference football for Kettering
Carl Shutt’s mission at the start of his first full season in management was clear, take Kettering Town straight back into the Conference at the first attempt. On paper and to the vast majority of supporters, it didn’t seem too difficult a task, especially as Burton Albion had conveniently moved across into the Unibond Premier League and after all, we had retained virtually the same squad of players that we’d had in the Conference the previous season.
The season started off well with two wins and the supporters confidence grew that all was going well with their master plan, unfortunately the situation changed rapidly as Kettering lost four league games on the trot to set the supporters questioning the commitment of the players to regaining their Conference place and whether Shutt really could get them back on track.
Shutt immediately brought in Lee Howarth to strengthen the defence and it paid instant dividends as Kettering went 15 matches before their next league defeat and emerged as one of the handful of DMPL teams equipped for a serious challenge for the title race as the festive end-of-year period arrived.
A brief distraction appeared in the shape of a victory over Conference side Stevenage Borough in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round Replay, but the run was short-lived after a 6-1 hammering at home by 3rd Division Cheltenham Town allowed the players and supporters to ‘concentrate on the league’ again. As the season crept into the New Year there appeared only four teams in contention, with Tamworth taking over the role as main title rivals to Kettering Town.
The run-in to the DMPL Championship Title
As the championship battle entered into the final run-in stage, it came down to a two-horse race, with Tamworth having a slight edge over Kettering who struggled to cope with their growing injury problems and it was the sheer determination of Poppies manager Carl Shutt who kept the club’s hopes alive after several setbacks.
Going into March, Kettering won four matches on the trot taking them within goal difference of the Lambs at the top of the table, but two shock defeats saw them slip back again before two wins at Easter steadied the ship and restored some much-needed composure. Another surprise defeat at home to Newport IoW looked to be the end of Kettering’s title chances and the supporters, already on edge, were beginning to lose faith in the chances of a quick return to the Conference.
Two matches later and it was Tamworth who suffered the jitters having two drawn games, with Kettering securing two vital away victories that again had them within goal difference of the top of the table and now there were just two games remaining for both teams, one home and one away.
Kettering’s excellent 4-1 victory at home over Weymouth was surpassed (score-wise) by Tamworth’s 5-1 win over relegated Salisbury City and with each team having just one away game remaining, Tamworth were ahead of Kettering only on goal difference. After a rollercoaster of a season for Kettering Town, it was going right to the wire and with the Lambs +2 up ‘goal difference’ over the Poppies, even a win in their final away game might not be enough for Carl Shutt’s men to secure the championship.
The title race goes down to the wire at Tiverton
To say the atmosphere at Tiverton Town for Kettering’s final game of the season was tense is a vast understatement, a large travelling contingent of Poppies supporters were forced to endure not only 90 minutes of nail-biting whilst watching their own team’s progress, but also the heart-stopping updates filtering through from Cheriton Road, where Folkestone Invicta were putting up a real fight against Tamworth.
The memories of that day will surely be etched forever in the minds of all the Poppies supporters, management and players alike as the final whistle sounded, Kettering had won 2-1 and within seconds the crowd erupted into frenzied celebration as the news was confirmed, Tamworth had only managed a 3-3 draw and Kettering Town were the DM Premier League Champions 2002.
Carl Shutt had pulled off a minor miracle. Having almost rescued the club from relegation after taking over at the latter part of that fateful previous season, the Poppies manager’s sheer determination and refusal to admit defeat, even more impressively in his first full season of management, had carried Kettering Town Football Club back up into the Conference.
Kettering’s return to the Conference is short-lived
Once the euphoria of Kettering’s triumphant return to the Conference had finally faded it was down to the difficult task of consolidating a place back in the top-flight of non-league football at the start of the 2002-03 season. The preseason buildup had not gone well for Kettering, losing out 2-0 to Dorchester Town at home in the DM Championship Shield was perhaps an early indication of the problems Carl Shutt faced in his attempt to restore some of the club’s status after the humiliation of two season’s previous.
A mediocre start was quickly followed by several defeats and it wasn’t long before Kettering were languishing at the bottom of the Conference and already looking likely relegation candidates. With no money made available for manager Carl Shutt to bring in players, matters quickly turned worse when the chairman announced he wouldn’t be able to pay the players wages and effectively the club was in breach of contract.
By the time the middle part of the season came around, Kettering’s playing squad had been decimated by several departures, notably promising midfielder Richard Butcher, who opted to join Lincoln City and last season’s top scorer Dale Watkins who struggled to regain his previous season’s goalscoring form. A humiliating 5-0 hammering at Rockingham Rd by Hastings Utd in the FA Cup put paid to any thoughts of a much-need prize money boost and the 5-3 loss on penalties to Altrincham put paid to any hope of FA Trophy success early into the New Year.
The seemingly inevitable relegation was finally confirmed with four matches still remaining and led to the sacking of manager Carl Shutt, with Kettering finishing the season rock-bottom of the Conference, embarrassingly 14 pts behind the team above and at least 16 points from safety, recording arguably one of their worst seasons in the history of the club and certainly during their Conference tenure.
Despite increasingly vocal protests from the understandably frustrated and disillusioned supporters and two rejected attempts from the Supporters Trust to purchase the club, Poppies chairman Peter Mallinger stubbornly refused to give up control of the club and duly appointed Dominic Genovese as manager for the coming season. Kettering opted to join the Rymans (Isthmians) Premier League for the coming 2003-04 season instead of the expected return into the DMPL and once again face the daunting task of trying to make a quick return to the Conference at the first attempt.
Genovese struggles to halt the decline
The appointment of Dominic Genovese would hardly have been a unanimous choice for most supporters, although a popular ex-player and successful Youth coach at Rockingham Road, many supporters thought the lack of management experience at a higher level would prove too big a hurdle, however the chairman thought otherwise and Kettering Town kicked-off the 2003-04 season in the Isthmian League with Genovese at the helm.
Kettering started the new season with two narrow 2-1 victories and a 1-1 draw, not a bad start to the campaign and despite a surprise defeat in their next fixture, Kettering bounced back to record back-to back victories and on paper at least, the team looked to be making progress in the right direction.
However, a late 3-2 surrender away to Carshalton Athletic after leading 2-0, exposed some worrying flaws appearing in the side and just one win out of their next five fixtures dropped the Poppies down to 13th place. The early season gloss had clearly worn off, bringing the supporters initial fears back into play and attendances dramatically dropped to register a meagre 601 for the home fixture against Heybridge Swifts.
Matters worsened for Genovese when the Poppies crashed out of the FA Cup away to Boreham Wood and with it went the prize money of ?Ç¬£10,000 and what would have been another money-spinning trip away to Second Division Blackpool in the 1st Round Proper.
A Craig Norman penalty secured a win away to Hayes and an own-goal gifted Kettering another win at St Albans, but the 3-0 hammering at Rockingham Road by Ford Utd only underlined the team’s defensive frailties and another low attendance underlined the supporters dissatisfaction with the way the season was now progressing.
It came as little surprise to most that shortly after their latest home defeat, Kettering Town announced that Dominic Genovese was ‘being relieved’ of his First Team duties and would revert back to being the Youth Team coach.
Platnauer’s brief caretaker role
Genovese’s early departure had arguably been hastened indirectly by the re-structuring of the non-league pyramid, with only those teams finishing above 14th place being guaranteed a berth in the newly-formed Conference North or Confernce South for the start of the 2004-05 season. With the season less than half-way through, it appeared that Poppies chairman Peter Mallinger had learned a valuable lesson and the process soon begun for the search for a suitably qualified and experienced replacement, with ex-Rothwell Town boss Nicky Platnauer taking over in the interim as caretaker manager of Kettering Town.
Platnauer’s role as caretaker manager lasted just seven matches. A 1-1 draw away to Hendon in the Second Round of the FA Trophy and a 2-2 draw at home to Aylesbury Utd with Duck’s striker Darren Lynch denying Platnauer and Kettering their first home win since back in mid-October. A fruitless journey down to the South Coast saw Kettering exit the Bryco Cup at the first hurdle, losing 2-0 at Worthing, but a mixed performance saw the Poppies hold on for a vital 2-1 league win at Northwood to remain in 7th place.
As the season had almost reached the halfway stage, the search for a permanent manager had finally been concluded and Nick Platnauer’s final match in charge of Kettering Town ended in a narrow 3-2 away victory at Bedford Town on Boxing Day, with the club announcing the appointment of former Cobbler’s boss Kevin Wilson as the new Kettering Town manager shortly afterwards.
Wilson takes over the hot-seat
Kevin Wilson and his management assitant, Lee Howey, got off to a winning start on New Year’s Day 2004, with Jason Turner scoring twice and Paul Fewings adding another as Poppies narrowly beat Hornchurch 3-2, in what was Kettering’s first home-win since mid-October. Just five days later however, any thoughts of a honeymoon period were swiftly crushed as Kettering were hammered 4-1 away to Bishop’s Stortford. Wilson moved quickly to try and resolve the club’s goalscoring problems by signing Darren Lynch, who was previously under Wilson at both Bedford Town and Aylesbury Utd.
Kettering’s next match was the visit of Conference outfit Woking in the FA Trophy, a 0-0 draw at Rockingham Road was quickly followed by the replay and a solid performance saw Kettering 3-2 victors and into the 4th Round. However any euphoria was again short-lived as Kettering crashed 3-0 at home and then 1-0 away, to Carshalton Athletic and Bognor Regis in quick succession.
February opened with a 0-0 draw at Eton Park and brought Conference outfit Burton Albion to the replay at Rockingham Road the following Tuesday, this time there was to be no repeat of the last round’s victory and with an unusual miss from the penalty spot by Craig Norman, Kettering went out 2-1 in extra-time. Defeat at Sutton Utd by 2-1 hardly did much to quieten Wilson’s detractors and the failure of new signing Darren Lynch to find the net only added to the mounting disappointment.
Kettering continued to suffer with results and their automatic berth in the newly structured Conference North or South that was dependent upon a top 14 place finish was looking in increasing danger and recent signing Lynch had gone 12 games without finding the net for his new club.
The turning point and subsequent change in fortunes was coupled with the goals suddenly flowing for striker Lynch and Kettering began to slowly claw their way back up the table. A much improved run-in saw the Poppies finish in 9th spot and ironically, during the end-of-season restructuring Kettering found themselves heading into the newly created Conference North section for the 2004-05 season.