FC Halifax Town battled to a 2-1 win at Dartford despite seeing Lois Maynard and James Bolton both receive red cards.
A nightmare start saw Harry Crawford hand Dartford an early lead but Town went in level at the break thanks to Matt Pearson’s second goal of the season.
Substitute Scott Boden’s penalty proved to be the winner on a controversial evening packed with contentious decisions.
A fair few of Town’s wins can be described as hard-fought but this was an another level entirely.
If the league campaign is a marathon not a sprint then most of the Town players probably ran one by the end of the night.
Neil Aspin’s clenched fists at the final whistle showed how good a result this was under the most trying of circumstances.
If Dartford finish the season in the bottom four, they may look back at this result as one that got away.
And if Town finish in the top-five, they may point to this victory as a huge step along the way.
Town certainly knocked the ball around with more confidence in the early exchanges, but from the first corner of the night, Crawford notched his first goal in six league games from six yards out after a near post flick on.
Crawford, in his second spell at the club, was the hosts’ main outlet, with the midfield largely bypassed in search of the striker.
But that early goal seemed to put a spring in Dartford’s step, with a lovely back-flick by Ryan Hayes and some good hold-up play by Crawford.
Danny Schofield and Paul Marshall looked bright on the ball and both had a decent effort as Town tried to hit back, forcing second-choice keeper Deren Ibrahim into comfortable saves from distance.
The lively Hayes then struck narrowly over after Matt Glennon had raced off his line to clear a through ball ahead of Danny Harris.
Those direct passes from Dartford were proving effective in gaining ground up the field as well as pushing Town further back.
A cry of “lift it” from Matt Pearson just before the half-hour told of Halifax’s opening 30 minutes, with Dartford looking half-a-yard quicker all over the pitch.
Richard Peniket had cut a fairly isolated figure for the first half-hour, but suddenly burst in behind the Dartford defence.
His vicious low shot was parried by Ibrahim back into the danger area, where Pearson tapped in for his first goal since the 3-0 win at Chester in August.
The fact that Dartford had only kept two clean sheets all season meant Town shouldn’t have been too concerned at falling behind.
And the fact that the bellowing Pearson could be heard cajoling his side emphasised the home crowd weren’t too vocal in their support of the Darts.
The fairly muted response to the hosts’ opener told of a crowd who had seen leads slip away too often.
A fairly subdued occasion then burst into life when Maynard was dismissed after what seemed like an innocuous coming-together with Lee Noble five minutes before the break.
The validity of the decision was hotly disputed, with the alleged offence being an elbow by Maynard on the Dartford midfielder.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the red card, it certainly livened up the last few minutes of the half.
Moments later, Town protested strongly about a perceived elbow on Peniket by Rory McAuley.
Referee’s decision: Dartford throw-in.
Town had been aggrieved for most of the half after feeling referee Rob Whitton had favoured the hosts with the majority of his 50-50 calls.
Neil Aspin’s frustrations then grew further when a foul was given against Steve Williams despite the Town defender winning the ball.
Had Dartford scored from the resulting free-kick, which was only prevented by a superb Marc Roberts block, Mr Whitton would have had some serious explaining to do.
After their ding-dong battle against Alfreton just three days ago, this was now another test of character, as cold, windy Tuesday nights in Kent tend to be in January. Especially with 10-men.
The omens for the second half weren’t great either; an obvious throw-in to Town was given to Dartford by the linesman standing no more than two yards away.
Peniket got another sight of goal after some nice build-up play between Adam Smith and James Bolton, but his goal-bound shot was well blocked.
The next effort of note also came from Town when Marshall’s curler was caught by Ibrahim.
The 10-men were coping admirably with their numerical disadvantage, while Dartford hadn’t seized the initiative of having a man extra.
The best the hosts could muster were wayward efforts by Crawford and Max Cornhill.
It was the travelling contingent from Halifax who were shouting loudest now, encouraged by the fact that Town appeared to have the extra man.
Ironically, the referee then provoked the wrath of the hosts after awarding a handball against Noble from Schofield’s shot.
Only four minutes after coming on, Boden converted from the penalty spot to hand Town a deserved lead.
The Dartford fans could be heard now as they voiced their collective opinion at the referee’s performance.
But moments later, Mr Whitton sent-off Bolton for a poor tackle on Cornhill, arguably one of the few decisions the official got right all evening, with the Dartford player unable to continue.
How about this for a test?
As is so often the case when Town backs are against the wall, Mar Roberts stood tallest in the Halifax defence, meeting the majority of crosses now being frantically launched into the penalty box.
While Town worked tirelessly to repel the hosts, Dartford looked to have run out of ideas and lacked the quality needed to breach the often nine-man wall in front of them.
Dartford: Ibrahim, McAuley, Green, Cornhill (Sweeney 74), Mitchel-King, Hayes, Noble, Harris, Driver (Bradbrook 82), Crawford, Burns. Subs not used: Kessell, Daley, Collier.
Scorer: Crawford (9)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 4
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton, M Roberts, Williams, McManus, Smith (K Roberts 65), Maynard, Pearson, Marshall (Boden 65), Schofield, Peniket. Subs not used: Senior, Dyer, Hillhouse.
Scorers: Pearson (33), Boden (69)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 5
Town man of the match: Danny Schofield