SKIPPER Craig Jones celebrated his 200th Bromsgrove Sporting appearance with a goal in the narrow 3-2 victory over a resilient Coventry United.
The central defender scored three minutes into the second half to fire the Rouslers into a 3-0 lead after Drew Canavan and Max Loveridge had earlier put the hosts into a comfortable 2-0 half-time lead.
But with 15 minutes remaining the Red and Greens pulled one back through Shaquille McDonald and Sporting’s task of holding on to victory was made harder when striker Richard Gregory was sent off six minutes later for an alleged elbow, bringing an end to his chances of scoring in a 13th consecutive game.
After throwing away a 3-0 lead at United earlier in the season in the FA Vase, it looked as though there was going to be a repeat when Jamal Clarke prodded home in the first minute of stoppage time but somehow Sporting hung on to stay three points clear at the top of the Midland League Premier Division table.
Sporting started the game brightly in front of a 691-strong crowd at the Victoria Ground and were fully deserved of their tenth-minute lead when Canavan latched on to Jason Cowley’s throughball and slotted the ball between the legs of the onrushing Thomas Dyche.
And the Rouslers came so close to doubling their lead seven minutes later but Sean Brain’s effort from close range thundered against the post.
Despite their early dominance, Brendan Kelly’s Sporting probably should have been pegged back midway through the half but for a goal-line clearance from Daniel Morris denying McDonald who was later thwarted by Francis from a couple of yards out after being played through by Lewis Rankin.
United’s misdemeanours in front of goal came back to haunt them four minutes from the break when they failed to clear Josh Quaynor’s free-kick from the right, with the loose ball landing at the feet of Loveridge who made no mistake from eight yards out.
And three minutes after the break it looked like the points were all-but sealed for Sporting when Jones’ overhead kick at the back post squeezed over the line.
However, the visitors showed a never say die attitude and it was McDonald pulling all the strings, firstly curling wide before seeing an angled free-kick from the corner of the box tipped over the bar by Francis.
But the No.10 would not be thwarted for much longer when with 15 minutes to go he slotted the ball beyond the onrushing Francis after being played in down the left-hand side.
And United’s spirits were lifted with nine minutes to go when Gregory was given his marching orders after the referee claimed he had led with an arm while challenging for an aerial ball.
Now with their backs to the wall, Sporting had a task on their hands and after an intense spell of pressure, United got their second in stoppage time when Clarke was on hand to tap home the rebound from Aaron Opoku’s effort which had been parried by Francis.
But with time against them, United could not salvage a point from a game which swung in the favour of the visitors once Sporting were reduced to ten men.