Kettering Town are out of the FA Trophy after a last-gasp 3-2 defeat at Mickleover Sports.
The Poppies came from behind to lead 2-1 through goals from Claudio Hoban and Elliot Sandy, but the 67th-minute dismissal of centre-half Jason Lee was the turning point.
Chris Palmer swept home the resulting free kick to tie the scores and although 10-man Poppies kept taking the game to their hosts and won a flurry of corners, they were sent crashing out by sub Jordan Ball’s last-minute strike.
The Poppies reached the FA Trophy final in 1979 and 2000 and although boss Thomas Baillie admits non-League’s premier knock-out competition is not his priority this season, he still picked a strong side.
Of the team that started last week’s 2-1 win at Royston seven days ago that maintained the Poppies two-point lead at the top of the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One Central, eight kept their places.
Dubi Ogbonna, who came off the bench to get the winner at Royston, was back in the starting line up, along with James Jepson and Hoban, who started on the right side of midfield after rejoining the Poppies on non-contract terms from Oxford City.
Kettering took good support with them to Raygar Stadium where the home fans are used to seeing their team win.
Going into the match, Mickleover, third in the Evo-Stick League Northern Premier First Division South and with games in hand on the teams above them, had won seven of eight home games in all competitions.
But for much of the match, the Poppies were quicker to the ball and created the better chances.
Had Lee not been dismissed, they would have been fancied to hang on to their advantage.
The better side early on, Kettering fell behind after 14 minutes when midfielder Andy Dales lashed a 20-yard thunderbolt beyond Jamie McAlindon’s grasp, but Mickleover only held the lead for 13 minutes.
They were disrupted by the loss of right-back Kevin Grocott with a dislocated kneecap and while they reorganised, Andy Hall’s perfectly-weighted chip left Hoban with just the keeper to beat and time to pick his spot.
His shot found the bottom corner of the net to the delight of the Poppies fans gathered behind the goal.
Ogbonna went on to bring a fine reflex save from ex-Port Vale stopper Chris Martin and in first half injury time, McAlindon pushed a well-struck shot from Mickleover skipper Liam Walshe over the bar.
Five minutes after the restart, the Poppies were ahead.
Sandy put in Ogbonna, his shot was saved, but the loose ball ran to Sandy and he slotted home.
The turning point came in the 67th minute when Lee was sent off after clipping Anthony Griffiths-Junior’s heels as he looked set to go clear and worse was to follow.
Palmer curled the resulting free kick into the bottom corner to level the scores.
Poppies still had their chances to grab the winner, but instead it was Ball who sent Mickleover through with a 12-yard shot through a crowded goalmouth.
Mickleover: Martin; Grocott (sub Bryant 24), Wiley, Degirolamo, Palmer; Dales, Walshe, Lloyd, Griffiths-Junior, Hazel (sub Ball 80), Demidh. Subs: Ashton, Esposito, Bryant, Graham
Poppies: McAlindon; Clifton, Lee, Solkhon, Kinniburgh; Hall (sub Bukasa 70), Jepson (sub Gooding 78), Robinson, Hoban; Sandy, Ogbonna (sub Richard-Noel 82). Subs unused: Taylor, Marsh.
Goals: 14: Dales 1-0, 27: Hoban 1-1, 50: Sandy 1-2, 68: Palmer 2-2, 90: Ball 3-2