Boston United survive a Beck bombardment and edge a win over Kettering
Boston United 1
Kettering Town 0
THE performance may have lacked the pyrotechnics of the victory over Chester and the result may not have left their third qualifying round opponents quaking in their boots.
But look beneath the surface and there was plenty for Boston United boss Jason Lee to be happy about after seeing his side edge to a rare win in the FA Cup.
The Pilgrims' recent record in the competition is so poor that no tie should be regarded as a foregone conclusion – last season's exit at the hands of Kidsgrove Athletic being a prime example.
Add the fact they were facing a club playing for its future – quite literally – and managed by a disciplinarian like John Beck, then this was a potential banana skin.
There were fears before the game that it would be Kettering's last ever. Amid reports players' wages had not been met, the £4,500 carrot on offer to the winner, plus the potential of a money-spinning run in the competition, could have provided the Poppies with a lifeline.
The visitors certainly didn't play like a side rooted to the foot of the Evo-Stik Southern Premier without a league win all season.
Whether you like Beck's direct tactics or not, he has a knack of making any side he manages competitive.
The gulf in quality between the teams was huge, but with their barrage of set-pieces – long throws and all – they still made it a difficult afternoon for Lee's men.
Just ask Pilgrims centre-back Nathan Stainfield, who long with Tom Ward was outstanding in the heart of defence.
"We did the job, but it was always going to be tricky," said Stainfield.
"They were so direct. They were lumping balls down the channels. They are a percentages team. The only word I can use to describe it is ugly.
"In terms of concentration it was very tough. The ball was always coming over the top of our heads. It was a case of making sure our (defensive) line was right and I think we did a good job on that.
"We tried to play a bit of football in the first half, but they were pressing quickly and lumping it. At half-time the gaffer reminded us that we've got better players so let's get it up to our forward players, who are in form.
"We were confident the goal would come. It was more a case of staying solid and keeping a clean sheet. The last thing you want to do against a team like that is give them a goal. It would have been a travesty if that style of play had worked."
Despite a late bombardment from Kettering, which saw brilliant reflex save from Dan Haystead, that style of play did not work.
Ben Fairclough's 66th minute strike – his fourth of the season – proved to be the winner. It came with a slice of fortune after Spencer Weir-Daley appeared to handle the ball not once, but twice, before pinging it across the face of goal.
Substitute Mark Jones failed to make connect, but that created space for Fairclough, who took a touch before rifling the ball into the top corner.
The infringement was not spotted by the officials, which was tough on crisis-torn Kettering and their hardy band of travelling fans. But the end result was correct.
"He is on fire," said Lee of Fairclough, who is in the form of his career.
"His work rate is phenomenal and when you work hard you sometimes get the breaks.
"It was a good finish. He had some other opportunities that he could have done better with, but I'm not going to be overly critical. We're very happy with what he's doing at the moment. He could have a very productive season."
Pilgrims (4-4-2): Haystead; Silk, Ward, Stainfield, Jelleyman; Fairclough, Milnes, Ross, Stokes (Jones 46); Weir-Daley, Newsham. Subs not used: Marshall, Reed, Dyer-Stewart, Nuttell, Smith, Drury (gk).