Kettering Town’s home woes continued in the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division and it proved to be yet another case of what might have been as they were undone by high-flying Dunstable Town.
The visitors eventually ran out 3-1 winners to maintain their lofty position but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what proved to be a fiery old afternoon at Latimer Park.
Truth be told, Kettering looked good early on. Bursting with confidence and on the back of a six-match unbeaten run, they took the game to their visitors and were well worth their early lead when Wilson Carvalho fired home James Brighton’s low cross with just five minutes on the clock.
The Poppies were firmly in control and might have been further in front with Dunstable goalkeeper Jack Smith denying Spencer Weir-Daley either side of Carvalho’s strike.
But then, in the 18th minute, the defining moment of the game unravelled.
The Poppies won a throw midway inside the Dunstable half. Rene Howe went to retrieve the ball but had Jack Hutchinson for company while doing so.
Indeed, quite why Hutchinson was on Howe’s case will remain a mystery but in a moment of frustrating the frontman appeared to throw an elbow in the winger’s direction.
Down he went, out came referee Andrew Dallison’s red card and then up Hutchinson got. Job done from his point of view, clearly.
In the aftermath of the defeat that followed, Poppies boss Marcus Law said the club would “definitely” appeal the sending-off after viewing the video footage.
That may well be a brave call. At worst, Howe did indeed react with an elbow. At best, he gave the referee a decision to make.
Either way, it ultimately proved costly as the numerical disadvantage eventually caught up with Kettering.
Initially, it didn’t seem to be an issue. They dominated the remainder of the first half and Weir-Daley somehow stabbed wide with the goal at his mercy while Paul Malone – making his league debut for the club – headed just off target from a corner.
There appeared to be few concerns in the early stages of the second half as well.
But the game swung in Dunstable’s favour once they had levelled on 67 minutes. And it was all-too simple as Jhai Dhillon crossed from the left and Kelvin Bossman powerfully headed home after coming on as a substitute just two minutes earlier.
Kettering had barely had time to draw breath as they quickly found themselves behind.
Malone brought down Alexander Cathline just inside the area and Hutchinson made no mistake in beating Paul White from 12 yards.
That forced the Poppies’ hand and they tried in vain to get forward and find a leveller.
A chance did fall their way but substitute Aaron O’Connor was off target when given a sight of goal.
Almost immediately, a second penalty arrived for Dunstable when Malone was adjudged to have fouled Cathline again - this time from behind.
But White kept his team in the contest by producing a superb save to keep out Hutchinson’s spot-kick.
Kettering continued to try to push forward and Liam Canavan was inches away from connecting with an O’Connor drive across goal.
But the game was up deep into stoppage-time. There appeared to be minimal contact as Hutchinson tumbled over the arms of goalkeeper White.
Nonetheless, a third penalty was awarded and Cathline sent White the wrong way to wrap things up.
The defeat proved too much for some Poppies fans who vented their frustrations at the referee and then the Dunstable players who celebrated their win as if the title itself had been decided by it.
But once again, Kettering had caused their own downfall. Howe’s red card and some rash decision-making took its toll.
It remains early days but this home hoodoo must be ended quickly, preferably when Hayes & Yeading United come to town on Tuesday night...
Poppies: White; Bateman, Mulligan, Malone, Langdon; Carvalho, Hornby, Hicks (sub Canavan, 72 mins), Brighton (sub Mohamed, 67 mins); Howe, Weir-Daley (sub O’Connor, 60 mins). Subs not used: Howell, Solkhon.
Dunstable: Smith; Reynolds, Sonuga, Debayo, Dhillon; Hutchinson, D Green (sub Talbot, 90 mins), Longe-King (sub Bossman, 65 mins), Keenleyside (sub J Green, 62 mins); Cathline, Bush. Sub not used: Odofin.
Referee: Andrew Dallison.
Goals: Carvalho (5 mins, 1-0), Bossman (67 mins, 1-1), Hutchinson pen (69 mins, 1-2), Cathline pen (90 mins, 1-3).
Bookings: Sonuga (deliberate handball), Longe-King, Malone, White (all fouls).
Sending-off: Howe (violent conduct).