NEW season, same dependability from Forest Green’s most unsung stalwart.
Alex Lawless was Rovers’ hero in more ways than one at the A-Line Stadium, filling in for the injured Kris Thomas at right-back and grabbing a deserved 77th-minute leveller against combative opponents.
Jim Harvey’s men were ragged around the edges at times, and he will be hoping the more jittery moments were down to first-day nerves.
But their measured response to John Dempster’s goal from a corner on 14 minutes was highly encouraging, a sign of growing maturity within the squad.
Blue Square North champions last season, Kettering roared out of the blocks and capitalised on a disjointed start from their opponents.
Indeed, Rovers nearly contributed to their own downfall four minutes before conceding when Darren Jones was caught badly in possession on the edge of the area by Chris Beardsley.
The frontman slid the ball left for Gareth Seddon on the edge of the penalty area and he forced a parry from Ryan Robinson.
Moments later Alfie Potter burst clear on the right flank and whipped in a cross that fell perfectly for Owain Warlow five yards out, whose shot was superbly blocked by Robinson.
The former Morecambe stopper was looking keen to justify his reinstatement as first choice, but he must take his share of the blame for allowing Warlow’s corner to drift over his flailing glove and enabling Dempster to power a header home.
Having been second to every 50-50, Rovers suddenly had a rescue act to perform and needed to shift up a couple of gears.
They also had to come to terms with Poppies defender Exodus Geohaghon, whose huge throw-ins were tougher to contend with than pronunciation of his surname.
Such tactics are not the Harvey way, and the visitors set about repairing the situation by stringing passes together and remaining patient.
They were almost rewarded six minutes before the break.
Andy Mangan got the faintest flick to Lawless’ cross and Dempster’s deflection forced home goalkeeper Lee Harper to turn the ball on to the post in athletic fashion.
Mangan was one of three starters making their competitive debuts for the club, worrying the Kettering defence with his tireless running off the ball but failing to fashion any gilt-edged openings.
Playing in the Rigoglioso role behind the main striker, Kaid Mohamed struggled initially to impose himself on the game but was a threat from wider areas in the second half.
Lee Fowler was the most impressive of the trio, rarely wasting possession in the middle of the park, while substitute debutants Conal Platt and Curtis McDonald each had a hand in Rovers’ overall improvement.
Less convincing was Robinson, who looked nervy whenever the ball was at his feet and remains some way short of the impressive form he showed during his first season at the New Lawn.
The equaliser was a triumph for quick thinking, Lawless latching on to Mohamed’s short corner and unleashing a cross-shot from 25 yards which flew past Harper into the far corner.
It heralded a harum-scarum conclusion to the match, as first Mangan raced onto McDonald’s through-ball and saw his effort clutched by Harper at the near post.
Lawless then touched a short free-kick to Platt, whose angled drive from the edge of the area was deflected a couple of feet wide.
Two efforts from Andre Boucaud in stoppage time had hearts in mouths at the other end, and Robinson was grateful for Lawless’ frantic clearance after failing to hold a long-range drive.
Kettering Town: L. Harper; J. Dempster, G. Branston, E. Geohaghon, T. Jasczun; A. Potter (D. Taylor 68), D. Wrack, B. Solkhon, O. Warlow; G. Seddon (A. Boucaud 75), C. Beardsley (J-P Marna 60); Subs not used: L. Graham, S. Dorrill.
Forest Green: R. Robinson; A. Lawless, D. Jones, J. Hardiker, P. Stonehouse (C. McDonald 58); L. Afful, J. Pitman (C. Platt 50), L. Fowler (J. Smith 73), S. Clist; K. Mohamed; A. Mangan; Subs not used: M. Preece, T. Burton. Referee: J. Adcock (Long Eaton)
Star man: Alex Lawless – Reliable as ever in his less favoured position, scoring one and laying on chances for others.