REDDITCH United boss Paul Smith heaped praise on his players after their exhausting efforts in salvaging a fully deserved 4-4 draw at leaders Kettering Town on Tuesday.
The Reds led 2-1 and 3-2 at the table-topping Poppies in an incredible game in which both sides had a penalty saved, but the visitors looked set to return from Northamptonshire empty-handed after Dan Holman fired the hosts into a 4-3 lead in the 82nd minute.
However, United rescued the point their efforts deserved at the very least when Harry Franklin rose highest to head home into the bottom corner from Robbie Bunn’s corner from the right.
Aaron O’Connor gave Kettering the lead in the 14th minute before Dave Reynolds levelled five minutes later and midfield debutant Richard Batchelor put Redditch 2-1 up on 22 minutes from Bunn’s corner.
Dion Kelly-Evans restored parity for Kettering on the half hour before Paul White made a fine save to keep out a penalty won and then missed by the visitors’ Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham, but United were not to be denied and Bunn restored their lead on the stroke of half-time following Leachman-Whittingham’s assist.
Keeper Reece Francis then came to the visitors’ rescue midway through the second half when he saved Rhys Hoenes’ penalty but it was 3-3 on 75 minutes when Holman struck and the same player then put the home side ahead.
However, Franklin had the final say and Smith was left to reflect on a dramatic evening which ended with his side extending their league run to just one defeat in seven including five wins.
The Reds remain 16th but just five points outside the final Southern Premier Central play-off place and there is much to play for heading into Saturday’s visit of top five hopefuls King’s Lynn Town.
“It was a humdinger of a game in which both teams went hammer and tongs at it and it was a great advert for football at this level,” said Smith.
“Our lads deserve real credit for their efforts because they were at it against a top side right from the first whistle. I was devastated when we went 4-3 down late on because it looked as though we may go home empty-handed after all that effort, but we kept going, worked our socks off and got our reward.
“Kettering are an outstanding side who are clear favourites to win the division and they’ve been scoring goals for fun, so this is a very valuable point for us.”
Smith was quick to highlight the efforts of central midfielders Milan Butterfield and Batchelor, the latter recruited from Highgate United, who both made full debuts and also the impact of striker Mitch Piggon who made his Reds bow as a substitute midway through the second half.
He added: “The two central midfielders were superb. They had everything we want from them – grit, determination, flair, power and strength – and for Mitch to come on, look good and get some valuable minutes under his belt after five or six weeks out was another big plus.
“We didn’t do well enough with some of the goals we conceded and working on stopping crosses into the box is something for us to look at in training, but overall I was delighted.
“We can take huge confidence from this result and our recent run.”