Haywards Heath Town return to the summit after win in early top-of-the-table clash
The Isthmian South East early frontrunners met in a top-of-the-table clash, at Hanbury Park on Saturday.
In front of a partisan crowd, it was Haywards Heath Town who kept their unbeaten tag as they inflicted a first league defeat on their visitors, Ashford United.
The Blues won a tight game 2-1 to move back to the top of the division, but they finished with only 10 men after first goal scorer, Jordan Clarke, was dismissed with two minutes of the game left on the clock. Referee, Harry Scott, dismissed Clarke for two bookable offences, within 60 seconds of one another.
Heath boss, Shaun Saunders, had to shuffle his pack as Tom Gilbert joined Tom Cadman on the injured list. Sinn Christie came in to partner Nathan Cooper in the Blues' back line, with recent signing from Horsham, Luke Robinson, on the bench.
The Blues took an fourth minute lead following a mazy run from Clarke. He cut inside, drawing a couple of Ashford defenders, before clipping the ball towards the far post.
Those in line either left it, watched it or misjudged the flight of the ball as it flew towards, and then past, Tyler McCarthy in the Nuts & Bolts' goal.
Given contrasting styles of play, each side contained and countered the other in an absorbing first period, with clear chances at a premium.
Ashford started the second half on the front foot with their top scorer, Tom Fagg, going close. Gil Carvalho then had a chance to extend Heath's lead but, following a lovely pass from Napper, the striker fired over McCarthy's bar when well placed.
It continued to be a blow-by-blow game as Fagg fired wide before Heath's Tom Summerfield shot straight at McCarthy.
Robinson made an instant impact, as he replaced the injured Jerson Dos Santos. Having already looked very lively, Robinson scored just 12 minutes into his debut, as he capitalised on a 'keeper fumble to turn the ball in for the Blues' second goal, much to the delight of his new team mates.
Ashford fought back immediately with a beauty from their full back, Tariq Ossai, who curled home from 20 yards, giving Billy Collings no chance, in the Blues' goal.
The game finished in bizarre fashion as Haywards Heath's first goal scorer, JClarke, was booked twice within a minute by referee, Scott.
Initially, Clarke was booked for preventing Ashford from taking a free kick, he then followed up immediately by getting booked for dissent, to get a red card.
His team mates covered his loss well, as they saw out the remaining minutes to see the hosts home, to collect the three points on offer and to extend their unbeaten league start to six games.
Heath manager Saunders said: "I was delighted with the work rate and application shown by our lads today. They worked so hard to blunt a potent Ashford side and I thought we played the better football over the 95 minutes too.
After our loss to Horsham in the FA Cup, I asked the boys to take our unbeaten run to six games and they have done that in style by winning both very trappy games.
At Lancing we dug deep to nick the win, today I felt we played on the front foot throughout and deserved our victory.
"We have a 10 day breather now. We have a couple of little niggles that should be clear by the time we face Chichester City at Hanbury on Tuesday week."