Ten-man AFC Portchester enjoyed a ‘bittersweet’ 3-2 success at Amesbury Town in the Wessex League premier division on Saturday.
The win, which lifted the Royals into third spot, was soured by a red card for Joe Noakes on the stroke of half-time.
It is the third time Noakes has been sent off this season and he now faces a lengthy ban.
Manager Graham Rix admits it could prove a big blow to his team’s ambitions, but at the same time jumped to Noakes’ defence.
He said: ‘I am the first to criticise players when they are in the wrong but I think Joe has been unfortunate.
‘He is a big strong lad who enjoys the physical side of the game.
‘I think he has been a little unlucky with all of his dismissals.
‘At Cowes it was the harshest sending off I have ever seen and there were mitigating circumstances at Lydney in the FA Vase.
‘In this game I felt his challenge on the goalkeeper was 50-50 and he actually came off worse.
‘Unfortunately, he had already picked up an unnecessary booking for pulling a player back.
‘We will be without him for at least another six games now and that is a big shame.
‘Joe has been terrific for us and is a very influential player.
‘His absence will be a blow but there is a terrific spirit running through the squad at the moment.
‘Whoever has come into the side has done great for us.’
The Royals made an excellent start, as they looked to stretch their unbeaten run to 16 games – taking a fourth-minute lead.
Alex Baldacchino picked out Tony Easter with a good through ball and the latter finished well.
The home side soon levelled, however, when the Royals failed to deal with a far-post cross which ended in an easy tap-in.
Josh Warren made sure the visitors went into the break ahead when he scrambled the ball home following a corner.
The dismissal of Noakes, though, left the Royals facing an uphill battle in the second period.
After the break a foul by Tom Cain allowed Amesbury to level from the penalty spot.
Despite finding themselves pegged back, Rix’s team continued to control affairs.
It was no more than they deserved when Cain made up for his earlier indiscretion by grabbing the winning goal 12 minutes from time.
From a free-kick, Cain got in front of his defender to nick the ball past the goalkeeper into the net.
‘We showed fantastic character in the second half,’ said Rix.
‘It is a great result coming after our 2-0 win over league-leaders Moneyfields.
‘Steve Johnson and I have known all along that we have the quality in the squad to challenge at the top.
‘We still have up to five key players to return which augurs well for the rest of the season.’
AFC Portchester: Scott, Evans, Wells, Kirby, Warren, Cain, Clarke, Bye, Easter, Baldacchino, Noakes
Subs: Froggatt, Mukerjee, Everett, Sweeney, Gibson