Boston United come from behind to beat Kettering Town in thrilling clash with four red cards

Boston United 3 Kettering Town 2

Luke Shiels. Photo: Oliver Atkin
Luke Shiels. Photo: Oliver Atkin

Luke Shiels headed home an 81st-minute winner as Boston United came from behind to beat nine-man Kettering Town 3-2.

In an exciting and open battle for the National League North play-off spots the Pilgrims again came from behind to repeat the scoreline they registered at Latimer Park in December, but were pushed all the way by the visitors.

Five goals, four controversial red cards, efforts smashing against the woodwork, superb saves and penalty appeals waived away were all present in a game brimming with flashpoints.

For the two sets of fans, much of the build up centred around the two dug-outs. Indeed, the 332 visitors were joined in the away end by a den of inflatable snakes, a protest against the manner of Paul Cox's defection to Boston last month.

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Adding extra spice, Cox was, of course, replaced by Ian Culverhouse, another in the running for the Boston job.

But for the players - after the Poppies squad had warmly greeted their old gaffer and his management team an hour before kick off - the focus was firmly on the fight for a top-seven slot.

New Boston signing Scott Pollock was put straight into the starting XI with James Hanson back from injury and making his first start under Paul Cox, himself returning to the dug-out after missing Tuesday's defeat at Kidderminster through illness.

Keenan Ferguson was back in the XI as he replaced Matt Tootle, omitted from the squad after missing training with injury on Thursday.

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Ntumba Massanka, who joined from South Shields, was named on the bench along with Andi Thanoj - back from his five-month gambling ban - and Brad Abbott, who rejoined in midweek.

Tom Platt headed an early effort inches wide of the visitors' post before Northampton Town loanee Pollock marked his debut with a 10th-minute opener.

Meeting Danny Elliott's cross he powered his header home to hand United the advantage.

A lead which last just two minutes after a horribly scuffed Marcus Dewhurst free kick landed at the feet of Callum Stead.

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Stead still had work to do, but work he did, brushing off Scott Duxbury as he closed in on goal and rounded Dewhurst to net.

One step forward and one step back, the Pilgrims' season summed up in 120 seconds.

Back came Boston, Jackson Smith holding on to James Hanson's drive and denying Keenan Ferguson with a brave body block.

When he was beaten Shane Byrne's effort struck the inside of the post.

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Connor Johnson put the Poppies in front with 34 minutes gone, meeting Rhys Sharpe's long throw and glancing the ball into the roof of the net.

And it should have been three moments later. Dewhurst got down well to deny Johnson, Deacon's follow-up somehow rattling the woodwork from close range.

Appeals for a penalty after Kennedy's cutback appeared to strike the arm of the grounded Pollock fell on deaf ears, and as the Town players surrounded referee James Westgate the official remained unmoved.

Kettering remained on top early in the second half, Stead opting not to tee up the unmarked Jordan Crawford, instead dragging his strike wide.

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In response, Platt's deflected effort looped over the Kettering crossbar and, from the resultant corner, the visitors survived an almighty goalmouth scramble.

Byrne drove a 20-yarder wide of the Town goal before the Pilgrims finally drew level in the 68th minute.

As Danny Elliott drove into the Poppies box a Chris Smith challenge took the ball off his toe but only into the path of Keenan Ferguson who gratefully slotted home his first goal for the club.

Town saw out the final 13 minutes without Johnson, picking up his second yellow of the afternoon for a dive in the Boston box, a brave call from the referee.

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A superb save from Dewhurst denied Stead as he again broke clear, Smith his equal at the other end as he tipped Elliott's effort wide.

Skipper Shiels put Boston back in front in the 81st minute as he rose highest to meet Joe Leesley's corner and head beyond the this-time helpess Smith.

The Poppies heads didn't drop and Crawford almost levelled as his curler hit the underside of Dewhurst's crossbar before bouncing back into play.

Into time added on the game descended into madness.

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Town's Gary Stohrer was shown a straight red card for what must have been a stamp on Pollock. The reaction from the visitors seeing Crawford booked and Town assistant Paul Bastock dismissed in the shadows of the executive box named in honour of the Boston legend.

Coach Joe Simpson followed him down the tunnel seconds later.

PILGRIMS: Dewhurst, Duxbury, Platt, Garner, Shiels, Ferguson (Abbott 86), Elliott, Leesley, Byrne, Pollock, Hanson (Massanka 71); Subs (not used): Thanoj, Preston, Sault.

POPPIES: Jackson Smith, Barrett, Brown, Jack Smith (Stohrer HT), Johnson, Chris Smith (Cooper 57), Stead (Sheriff 86), Kennedy, Crawford, Sharpe, Deacon; Subs (not used): Stohrer, O'Connell, Milavanovic.

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REF: James Westgate.

ATT: 1,959 (332 visitors).