Kettering Town got down and dirty at a muddy Communications Park as they picked up a 1-0 success over county rivals Daventry Town.
Brett Solkhon’s 18th-minute header proved decisive as the Poppies returned to winning ways and opened up a seven-point lead at the top of the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central following Bedworth United’s defeat at Rugby Town on Boxing Day.
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was an outright battle particularly in the second half as Daventry gave as good as they got following an opening period in which Kettering had been dominant.
They were unable to add to Solkhon’s early header and while they only led by a solitary strike, the plucky hosts always fancied their chances of finding a way back into the game.
In the end, a solid defensive display saw the Poppies home in a contest that was physical and, on occasions, over the top with Daventry eventually finishing with nine men while James Clifton saw red for Kettering.
This was a well-earned three points and the sort of victory that some may well reflect on come the end of the season.
The Poppies were again without the influential Elliot Sandy, still sidelined due to a chest infection and they also had to contend with goalkeeper Richard Knight being forced off early due to a nasty arm injury.
Jamie McAlindon had already been recalled from his loan at Burton Park Wanderers and came off the bench to replace him while David Kolodynski was only fit enough for the bench due to illness.
But the remainder of the Kettering squad dug deep with the likes of James Jepson and Tommy Hull revelling in a midfield war on a boggy surface that had rightly been deemed playable after a morning inspection.
And the end result certainly delighted a large following of Poppies fans who helped Daventry set a new club record for the attendance of 660.
The Poppies started brightly enough and were rewarded when Solkhon rose to flick home Andy Gooding’s excellent free-kick from the left.
Dubi Ogbonna shot wide at the far post while Solkhon was denied a second when Robbie Cundy made an excellent goal-line clearance from another header.
McAlindon, once he had replaced Knight, was rarely troubled at the other end and that was a theme that generally continued for the whole match.
The Poppies should have doubled their lead early in the second period when Andy Hall raced through on goal but was denied by home goalkeeper Ben Heath,
Jack Howard fired into the side-netting for Daventry while Anthony O’Connor’s decent strike was blocked by one of his own players.
Ben Farrell saw red for the home side when he kicked out at Claudiu Hoban having been booked just five minutes earlier.
But the numerical advantage didn’t last long for the Poppies as Clifton was also given his marching orders when he was deemed to have tripped Tommy Berwick to earn him a second yellow.
Kettering continued the search for the crucial second goal as Ogbonna curled one just wide before substitute Kolodynski smashed one off the crossbar from a narrow angle.
Daventry’s big chance to earn a point arrived six minutes from the end when Jamal Clarke could only head straight at McAlindon when he might have done better.
The Poppies saw it out comfortably from there and a bit of keep-ball in the corner deep into stoppage-time was enough to frustrate Daventry substitute Ryan Howell who became the third player to see red when he scythed down Kolodynski.
For Kettering, the job was done and a perfect response to last weekend’s defeat at Northwood was produced.
Seven points clear heading into 2015 and a New Year’s Day home clash with Rugby Town, it would take a brave man to bet against them making it a special year indeed.
Daventry: Heath; Deeney, Clarke, Cundy, Hill; Parkinson (sub Berwick, h-t), Howard (sub Howard, 69 mins), Farrell, O’Connor; Southern (sub Howell, h-t); Tricks.
Poppies: Knight (sub McAlindon, 23 mins); Clifton, Solkhon, Lee, Kinniburgh; Hull, Jepson; Hoban (sub Kolodynski, 73 mins), Gooding, Hall; Ogbonna. Subs not used: Bukasa, Watts.
Referee: Mark Howes.
Goal: Solkhon (18 mins, 0-1).
Bookings: Tricks (persistent fouling), Jepson, Clifton, Farrell, Berwick (all fouls).
Sendings-off: Farrell, Clifton (second bookable offences), Howell (violent conduct).