King's Lynn Town face tough test of promotion credentials as Kettering head to The Walks
PUBLISHED: 10:59 28 December 2018 | UPDATED: 20:36 28 December 2018
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
Ian Culverhouse has worked miracles at King's Lynn Town, but admits he's chasing a two-horse race for the league title - and the prize of automatic promotion.
The Linnets are on a 14-match unbeaten run which has seen them gatecrash the Southern League Central Premier Division play-off party, following their 4-0 thrashing of Lowestoft Town on Boxing Day. That record faces perhaps its most severe test on Saturday when Lynn host Kettering, who are now locked in battle at the top for the sole automatic promotion spot.
Lynn’s fortunes have changed dramatically after those opening few weeks of the season when last season’s play-off finalists were a shadow of their former selves. Robbie Back and Neil Fryatt turned the ship around and Culverhouse has carried on their good work since his return in November.
The unbeaten run has taken Lynn to third in the table, but the top two are way ahead – leaders Stourbridge, who were the last team to beat Lynn in the league back on September 1, are four points ahead of Kettering who, in turn, are 13 points ahead of the Linnets. Then you have seven teams in a four-point range, which rather emphasises Culverhouse’s assertion that it’s all about strengthening your play-off position.
“Kettering are going for the league, aren’t they?” he said. “It’s a two-horse race at the moment and all we can do is turn up on Saturday and give them a game. As long as we are competitive and we really give them a game and stand up to what they are going to throw at us and get this lot (fans) rocking behind us, it could be a hell of a game.”
So, who faces the most pressure, Lynn or Kettering?
“It is them (Kettering) and Stourbridge,” added Culverhouse. “We have got nothing to lose. They are expected to go toe to toe with Stourbridge and we are fighting to stay in the play-offs so it’s a game they will come and look to win and we have got to match them as much as we can.
“We have to put them under pressure and try and stop the source as much as we can and then combat it. We have got to stand up to it, make sure we get bodies around second balls and win knock-downs and then try and influence our game on to it and impose our game on to them and I think if we can do that and stand up to the physical side of things we will be in for a really good game with them.”
The crowd for the Boxing Day win over Lowestoft was a disappointing 696 – that should be beaten with ease on Saturday afternoon and Culverhouse knows the value of fans and team working in unison.
“We have to make this place horrible to come to and we are slowly doing that,” he said. “After an indifferent start we are starting to look a side that people don’t want to play and that is all we can do – just look after our own bed and see what else develops.”
The Linnets boss has the weaponry – and in full working order, particularly in attack. Adam Marriott scored a Boxing Day hat-trick to make it five in his last four appearances, while strike partner Michael Gash grabbed the other after a superb performance.
There’s little doubt, barring late fitness issues, that they will start against Kettering, although both were spared the final 15 minutes on Boxing Day as Culverhouse gave some valuable minutes to Harry Limb and Charlie Clarke.
Clarke is studying in America and returns in the middle of January before coming back to Lynn in the summer when his football scholarship ends. Limb is a different story: having been signed by the axed Simon Clark, he has been the victim of injuries, loss of confidence ... and Marriott and Gash and on Friday night was loaned to United Counties Leaguer Premier side Pinchbeck for a month.
“It was important – Charlie is only with us a small amount of time anyway and Harry needs minutes and at the moment he is not getting any and he is a little bit frustrated. He needs minutes and games so when it became a little bit more comfortable for us we got the ‘old ones’ off and got fresh legs on.”
Lynn really do look a lot like last season’s Culverhouse team, but there is one significant difference: the manager is more than happy with the work of groundsman Steve Curtis – recruited in the summer – having been less than impressed with last season’s playing surface.
“It is excellent, and full credit to Steve for what he is doing for us,” said Culverhouse. “He works tirelessly on it and you can see the rewards. It is nice to play on and being a footballing side like we are it gives us half a chance.
“The surface helps – if it is bouncing up around our necks we can’t do it. We will probably go to places that won’t allow us to do that so we have to find another way of winning, but we have a good group of players and they can find other ways of winning.”