Tommy Hull was sent off as Kettering Town slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Rugby Town at Latimer Park.
The highest attendance of the season of 872 were on hand for the Poppies’ first game of the year but they witnessed their sixth loss of the campaign.
Hull saw red for two bookable offences in the second period and Rugby eventually took advantage by grabbing a late winner, which ensured Kettering’s lead at the top was cut to four points as Aylesbury claimed a 4-3 success at Aylesbury United.
The Poppies were boosted by the returns of David Kolodynski and Elliot Sandy to the starting line-up with the former being up against the club he left to join Kettering.
But Richard Knight failed a fitness test after arm injury, which meant Jamie McAlindon continued in goal for the hosts.
The visitors started brightly and Robbie Burns sent an early effort just wide before Sam Youngs forced McAlindon into his first save.
The Poppies gradually worked their way into the contest and Dubi Ogbonna had their first opportunity when he controlled James Clifton’s pass before testing Rugby goalkeeper Richard Morris.
But it was Rugby who had the best chance of half when a mistake from Jason Lee left Justin Marsden with a good opening but McAlindon produced a good low save to deny him.
Kettering’s best opportunity of the game came 10 minutes after the restart when Kolodynski got to the by-line and cut the ball back for Hull who smashed his shot against the crossbar.
But Hull’s and the Poppies’ afternoon was made all the more harder just six minutes later when he saw red for a second bookable offence after a late challenge on Alex George.
It looked for a long time like Kettering would hold on for their first draw of the season but Rugby snatched the points with three minutes to go when Youngs gave McAlindon no chance with a 20-yard strike.
The Poppies were unable to find a way back and slipped to only their second home defeat of the season.
Poppies: McAlindon, Clifton, Kinniburgh, Hull, Solkhon, Lee, Ogbonna (sub Watts, 79 mins), Jepson, Kolodynski, Sandy (sub Hall, 68 mins), Hoban (sub Gooding, 68 mins). Subs: Bukasa, Marsh.
Goal: Youngs (87 mins, 0-1).