What a way for Spalding United to finally record a first win this season against any of their promotion rivals.
It seemed to be mission impossible for the Tulips as Neal Spafford was sent off for the third time in the current campaign.
The 10 men were down but not out.
Substitute Jenk Acar’s penalty put Spalding back on level terms.
Astonishingly, they won it thanks to Leon Mettam’s magnificent free-kick into the top corner.
Revenge was sweet after AFC Rushden & Diamonds got two late goals with 10 men to claim a 2-1 win at the Sir Halley Stewart Field at the start of November.
Until Tuesday night, the Tulips had picked up just one point in seven games against the rest of the top seven who are pushing for promotion.
That record simply had to end.
But they were heading for a third successive away defeat as Liam Dolman’s free-kick was soon followed by a red card for Spafford.
So much credit must go to new boss Chris Rawlinson for his tactical changes.
At 1-0 down with 10 men, he had little choice other than to go for it - Spalding could not afford to lose again.
Rawlinson sent on Acar and Conor Higginson who both made an impact.
The departure of Spafford left Paul Walker alongside skipper Nathan Stainfield as Jordan Lemon slotted in at right-back.
Defensively, they held on – at times they were hanging on pretty desperately – but the plans worked.
Acar’s pace and trickery posed problems as he gave support for Mettam and top scorer Bradley Wells.
Just before the midway stage of the second half, the Tulips got a lifeline.
Walker was brought down from behind by Dolman for a blatant penalty and Acar tucked it away.
Even better was to come.
Mettam was racing clear but he didn’t have the ball under total control when Brad Harris fouled him on the edge of the penalty box.
A yellow card was correct and Mettam’s set-piece was wonderful, giving keeper Matt Finlay no chance.
Mettam’s sixth goal in three appearances proved enough for a 10th away league win of the season.
They still had to survive a few late scares, notably when Taylor Orosz fired straight at Michael Duggan.
Substitute Ollie Brown-Hill was cautioned for a dive and the Tulips safely saw out the final moments of stoppage-time.
Mettam had wasted the opening opportunity but the first half was evenly fought.
Diamonds applied periods of pressure but Spalding had bright spells as well.
Both teams hit the woodwork with Tom Lorraine and Stainfield denied.
Nathan Whitehead’s shot was deflected wide and Finlay tipped over Wells’ header.
Spafford had been booked for a late challenge and he had to go off following another foul on Lorraine just four minutes into the second half.
Dolman’s low free-kick had put Diamonds in control and there seemed no way back for the 10 men.
Lorraine’s tap-in was ruled out for offside but at the other end, Adam Jackson and Mettam went close.
Yet the Tulips showed spirit to stay in second spot for what might prove to be a vital victory.
That home defeat against Diamonds sparked a run of poor form which was known as ‘nightmare November’.
This win should provide a huge boost of confidence – even though Spalding have proved all season that they are good enough.
AFC RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS
4-1-4-1: Finlay; Ford (sub Parsons 85 mins), Harris, Dolman, Brown; Bunting; Shariff (sub Orosz 75 mins), Leslie, Farrell, Koriya (sub Brown-Hill 56 mins); Lorraine. Subs not used: Wilson, Heath.
4-4-2: Duggan 7; Walker 8, Spafford 5, Stainfield 8, Jackson 7; Beeson 7 (sub Acar 53 mins, 8), Downey 7 (sub Higginson 61 mins, 7), Whitehead 7, Lemon 7; Wells 7, Mettam 8 (sub Lockie 90 mins). Sub not used: Butland.
Dolman (46 mins, 1-0); Acar pen (66 mins, 1-1); Mettam (73 mins, 1-2).
Spafford (second bookable offence).
Lorraine, Spafford (unsporting behaviour); Whitehead, Harris (fouls); Brown-Hill (diving).
Leon Mettam – fantastic free-kick to win the game just puts him ahead of several other candidates all over the pitch. A terrific finish for the striker and the team.
Sheffield (H) – Saturday.