Deeping Rangers pushed the UCL Premier Division title favourites AFC Rushden & Diamonds all the way on Saturday but the league leaders found a unusual source of goals to earn a 2-1 victory.
Rangers allowed defender Liam Dolman to head home two Richard Bunting corners as AFC Rushden & Diamonds extended their advantage in the race for promotion.
Dolman was left unchallenged on the edge of the six-yard box each time.
It was dreadful defending to spoil what was otherwise a decent display by Deeping.
The only other negative was Scott Ginty’s dismissal midway through the second half – three minutes after Dolman’s second goal.
Ginty went flying into a tackle on substitute Tom Lorraine with both feet off the floor and studs showing.
So you could see why the red card was shown. At a higher level, any appeal with video evidence would surely be marked down as frivolous with a suspension to stand.
However, on another day with another referee he may have just got away with a booking.
Even with 10 men, though, Deeping didn’t give up and they kept searching for that second equaliser.
The first-half leveller had been such a wonderful goal that it’s a real shame Deeping were ultimately unrewarded.
Deeping boss Tuncay Korkmaz – who won January’s manager-of-the-month award – said: “I’m never pleased to lose and they were two very cheap goals to give away.
“We created chances and had better possession. To be honest, anyone watching the game for 70 minutes would have picked us as the team at the top of the league.
“We played tremendous football and scored a great goal. But we got hit by two set-pieces where we have got to do better.
“We should have learned the lesson from the first goal when he had a free header.
“The second goal was the same again as he didn’t even have to jump but he put in another free header.
“That’s very disappointing after all the effort we’ve put into the game. There were a lot of positives.
“I thought the sending-off could have gone either wait with a yellow or red card. But the referee was very poor in both halves for both sides.”
The pitch is not in the best condition but the players showed they can still pass the ball around.
On the half-hour mark they produced a flowing move and showed patience until the ball fell to Jordan Avis inside the penalty box.
From 15 yards out he took aim with a right-foot shot which curled into the far corner of the net.
That cancelled out an easy opener on 12 minutes when Diamonds’ first corner was nodded in.
After the equaliser but before the break, Deeping gained confidence and they threatened to take the lead as Charlie Coulson and Ginty missed the target.
Overall Diamonds had more chances and they forced Dan Bircham into several saves, notably one towards the end from Lorraine which led to Tommy Berwick somehow missing an open goal.
By that stage Diamonds were 2-1 up and against 10 men but keeper Matt Finlay was still called into action to deny David Burton-Jones and substitute Mohammed Hamid.
Last season Deeping were one place and six points behind Diamonds.
This term the gap is much bigger but Saturday showed Deeping are certainly capable of being a match for anyone.
A top-eight finish is the target but they will need to sort out defensive duties at set-pieces. However next up for Deeping are Yaxley away in the Knockout Cup tomorrow (Tuesday).
Deeping Rangers: Bircham 7; Flack 7, Tinkler 8, Braithwaite 7, Smith 7; Burton-Jones 7, Ginty 6, Coulson 7; Goldson-Williams 6 (sub Hamid 74 mins), Graham 7 (sub Scotcher 74 mins), Avis 8 (sub Carter 74 mins). Sub not used: Palmer.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds: Finlay; Butt, Dolman, Ashton, Brown; Lamb-Johnson (sub Lorraine 57 mins), Bunting, Harris, Rogers; Dunkley (sub Gearing 87 mins), Berwick. Subs not used: Redding, Joseph, Turner.
Referee: Kevin Saunby