Injury-hit Daventry Town are back in the mix amongst the Southern League Division One Central pacemakers after substitute Kieran Fitzgerald scored a winner six minutes into stoppage time against Marlow on a Tuesday night of otherwise shock results.
Pre-season title favourites Kettering Town, likely challengers Rugby Town and Royston all came unstuck as Daventry rode their luck after Marlow captain Dan Hicks was sent off for throwing a punch at Communications Park.
Two other players, including the Town’s Dior Angus, picked up yellow cards in the same incident before Fitzgerald’s last-gasp debut goal separated two moderate sides in a lacklustre encounter.
With centre half Kyle Cartwright, strikers Mitchell Piggon and Tom Berwick all nursing leg in juries, the Purple Army suffered two further blows when goalkeeper Richard Morris and midfield man Josh Cole both had to be sustituted in the first half.
Morris suffered a recurrence of back trouble whilst Cole’s injury looked more serious. A collision with the Marlow goalkeeper left him with possible broken ribs.
Daventry do not always name a goalkeeper on the bench but fortunately Moldovan No.1 Iustin Cerga was on hand to provide adequate cover between the posts for much of the game.
With five key player on the casualty list after the first fortnight of the new season, manager Darran Foster may have to look for re-inforcements before a trio of tricky away games at Beaconsfield (Saturday), Kettering (Monday) and Ashford in the FA Cup on August 30. Fears that the Poppies would run away with the league championship leaving a host of other clubs to form an orderly queue for the play-offs places may yet prove premature.
Few people would have predicted a 3-1 defeat for Kettering at Leighton Buzzard on Tuesday night but Daventry need urgently to find their form in front of goal after scoring only five times in the first four competitive matches.
In the FA Cup a week on Saturday the Purple Army will have an old score to settle with a relegated Ashford Town outfit which dented the Town’s promotion prospects through a shock 2-1 in the Central Division last March.
Back in the Combined Counties League this season Ashford lost their opening match at Cove but followed up with three wins before beating Berkhamsted by a 3-1 margin on Saturday in the most controversial of all 180 FA Cup extra preliminary round ties.
Berko had two players sent off whilst their manager was also removed from the dug-out as tempers flared in a cup game which brought another polished performance from Ashford striker Mark Bitmead.
Seven points from four outings represents an adequate start to the campaign for Daventry but Foster will be struggling to cover the tracks following injuries to five key players in a squad of only 18.
The Town should still be strong enough to beat Ashford and earn a first qualifying round FA Cup tie at Hitchin.