By Ryan Batty:
Sean Cooke’s second half free kick put Nantwich Town in the hat for the First Round draw after a 1-1 draw with Kettering Town at the Weaver Stadium.
Michael Richens put the visitors in front on the verge of half-time as he was able to stab home following a deflection from a corner, but, Sean Cooke equalized for the Dabbers after seventy-three minutes with a beautifully-struck free-kick.
Despite an even first half with chances from both sides, it was Kettering who struck first just before half-time. A corner was whipped into the box and Will Jaaskalainen was able to get the ball away, but only as far as Michael Richens, who was on-hand to fire home after forty-four minutes.
An end-to-end second-half brought chances for both sides, but Sean Cooke was the man of the moment as he won a free-kick on the edge of the Kettering box. The midfielder stepped up and curled a pinpoint strike past goalkeeper Jordan Wright’s outstretched right hand to level proceedings.
There was a special appearance from Nantwich’s 1981 Cheshire League winning side before the game.
Nantwich were fully fit after their planned midweek game with Stourbridge was postponed to give both sides time to prepare for this massive tie in the FA Cup. However, Kettering weren’t awarded the same treatment as they played to a 0-0 draw in the week.
The first chance of the game went to the visitors as they won a corner after Troy Bourne cleared a ball away. However, Joel Stair was there to prevent anything coming from the set-piece.
Kettering dominated the first ten minutes as they won several corners, but Nantwich’s youthful backline was able to deal with the pressure. The first clear-cut chance of the game came after ten minutes as Aaron O’Connor was through on goal, but he wasn’t able to fully get his shot away as the home side’s defence successfully pressured the prolific forward.
After thirteen minutes, Sean Cooke was brought down from behind and earned a Dabbers free-kick. The set-piece specialist Cooke dipped the ball in and David Forbes was able to get a shot away from pinpoint range after a mix-up in the box, yet his shot was only stopped by a fantastic save from Wright in the Kettering goal.
Cooke won another free-kick after eighteen minutes, yet this time it was in direct Sean Cooke territory. However, he went low and driven and it was straight into the Kettering wall.
Will Jaaskalainen was fantastic on his Nantwich debut, repelling a rage of crosses and shots from the Kettering attack in the away side’s most consistent attacking spell.
Dave Cooke’s men almost took the lead after twenty-five minutes as Bourne unlocked the Kettering defence, but his pass towards Forbes was too heavy and went out for a goal-kick.
Sam Hall was penalised unfairly after cleanly winning the ball in the twenty-fifth minute, and was booked by the referee to howls of derision from the Nantwich faithful.
The Dabbers almost went a goal down after a mistake at the back allowed the Kettering attack to drive forward. However, the defence arranged themselves well and were able to force a goal-kick.
Joel Stair was Cooke’s primary target from most of his early free-kick due to his headed goals this season from set-pieces, and this time was no different, but the two couldn’t connect and nothing came from it.
With five minutes to go in the half, Cooke looped a cross into Matt Bell, but the midfielder’s header was just over the bar.
But on the verge of half-time, Kettering took the lead as a corner was fired into the box, and despite Jaaskalainen’s parry, there was nothing he could do as the Dabbers defence weren’t as quick to react as midfielder Michael Richens was able to fire home to give The Poppies the lead.
The Dabbers made a half-time substitution as Caspar Hughes was replaced by Nathan Cotterell.
The first real chance of the second half went to Nantwich as Harry Clayton cut inside and his left-footed strike was under-hit and was straight at Wright in the Poppies’ goal.
Just a minute later, O’Connor looked to be through as the ball bounced in front of him, but Stair tracked back fantastically and cleared the ball to prevent Kettering’s second of the game.
After fifty minutes, Sam Hall took a boot to the face from Michael Richens – but the Kettering goalscorer escaped the book, much to the chagrin of the Nantwich fans.
Ten minutes later, Kettering made their first change of the tie as Rene Howe replaced Mathew Stevens.
After sixty-two minutes, Cooke found Forbes in the box, who turned the defender brilliantly and his shot was across goal and scraped the far post.
Twenty-five minutes remained and Nantwich were piling the pressure on and knocked furiously on Kettering’s door.
A double change for the men in green followed as Steve Jones and Clayton McDonald replaced David Forbes and Harry Clayton.
Cooke was then brought down on the edge of the box and the midfielder stepped up and made himself a hero as he curled the ball around the wall and past the outstretched hand of Wright in the Kettering goal.
Kettering made two more changes in the seven minutes that followed as Aaron O’Connor and Lindon Meikle were replaced by James Brighton and Gary Stohrer.
The home side poured the pressure on in the last ten minutes but weren’t able to find a goal as Kettering were content to play to a draw for a replay at Latimer Park this week, but both sides are in the hat for Monday’s draw for the First Round Proper.
Nantwich: Jaaskalainen, Bourne, Wildin, Stair, Mullarkey, Hall (C), Hughes (Cotterell 45’), Bell, Clayton (S. Jones 70’), Cooke, Forbes (McDonald 70’)
Subs not used: Morgan, Quinn (GK), Davies, Brooke
Kettering: Wright, Berry, Toesland, Solkhon (C), Mulligan, Richens, Hoenes, O’Connor (Stohrer 80’), Stevens (Howe 60’), Milnes, Meikle (Brighton 75’)
Subs not used: Baker, White (GK), Maagbe, Sundire
Photos: Jonathan White
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