Paul Malone and Tommy Wright both saw red as Corby Town were beaten 2-0 by Calor League Premier Division leaders Hemel Hempstead Town in a stormy affair at Steel Park.
Malone was dismissed after picking up two bookings in the space of four first-half minutes and, with Hemel already a goal to the good at that point, it proved to be an uphill task for them.
Wright suffered the same fate in stoppage-time as he picked up two bookings in quick succession and that compounded a disappointing afternoon with referee Ben Cooke being the target of the home supporters’ frustrations.
Steelmen joint-bosses Andrew Wilson and Wright named an unchanged side from the one that beat Banbury United 4-2 in their last game.
And there were two familiar faces leading the line for Hemel with former Steelmen duo Ben Mackey and Tom Berwick, who left Steel Park just a few weeks ago, partnered in attack.
Corby started brightly enough and enjoyed plenty of possession but the leaders struck in their first real attack on 12 minutes.
Moussa Diarra’s cross into the area wasn’t dealt with by the home defence and the ball eventually fell to David Hutton who gave Paul Walker little chance with a fierce drive into the corner.
Malone headed over at the other end while Mackey and Berwick were both off target for the visitors.
Nathan Rooney went close for the Steelmen when his curling effort was headed clear by Diarra.
But from there the game became scrappy and, within the niggle, Malone picked up two bookings in the space of four minutes.
Despite referee Ben Cooke being on the end of the home faithful’s wrath, Malone could have few arguments, particularly after a poor challenge on Mackey which earned him the second booking.
With Corby forced into a reshuffle, Hemel went close to doubling their lead when Sam Ives headed Kieran Murphy’s volley off the line.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Steelmen were bright at the start of the second half and Rooney forced Laurie Walker to palm away his shot while Paul Walker denied Mackey at the other end.
Corby went close when Greg Mills cut in from the left and his right-footed shot took a wicked deflection before falling just wide of the far post.
And Hemel made the hosts pay just past the hour when Berwick nodded down a free-kick for substitute Dave Pearce who beat a home defender before firing into the corner.
That second goal killed the contest but the Corby players refused to lie down and still showed spirit in the latter stages.
Rooney was out of luck as his low shot cannoned off the post and out for a goal-kick while the impressive midfielder also forced Laurie Walker into a scrambling save before the end.
We will never know whether things would have been different if Malone hadn’t been sent off in the first half. Hemel deserved the win but the Steelmen’s spirit certainly couldn’t be questioned.
Steelmen: P Walker; Ives, Malone, Gascoigne, Jelleyman; McGowan, Carruthers; Rooney, Verma (sub Thomas, 76 mins), Mills (sub Hendrie, 72 mins); Wright. Subs not used: Carpenter, Greenway-Tambini, Carvalho.
Hemel Hempstead: L Walker; Parkes, Murphy, Blackett, Diarra; Folkes (sub Pearce, 56 mins), Allen (sub Thorne, 62 mins), Talbot, Hutton; Mackey (sub Mpi, 70 mins), Berwick. Subs not used: King, Toomey.
Referee: Ben Cooke.
Goals: Hutton (12 mins, 0-1), Pearce (63 mins, 0-2).
Bookings: Rooney, Malone, Allen, Jelleyman, Wright (all fouls).
Sendings-off: Malone, Wright (both second bookable offences).