Two more goals for Kyle Wootton plus Jayden Richardson's first for the club handed us a massive win over promotion rivals Wrexham.
Having gone a goal down to Reece Hall-Johnson's fourth-minute thunderbolt, the game's complexion changed completely when Harry Lennon was shown a straight red card for handballing Kairo Mitchell's shot on the line five minutes later.
Wootton swept home the resultant penalty and headed us into the lead before half-time, with Richardson putting the game beyond doubt with a header of his own after the returning Anthony Patterson had saved a Paul Mullin penalty.
With Covid cases, injury and suspension to contend with, Ian Burchnall made four changes to the side that overcame Altrincham in our last run-out.
Patterson was given the nod to start as Sam Slocombe dropped to the bench.
Alex Lacey replaced Connell Rawlinson, Adam Chicksen took Connor Parsons’ wing-back slot and Ed Francis stepped into midfield in place of Cal Roberts, who formed part of a four-man bench along with Slocombe, Aaron Nemane and Elisha Sam.
It proved to be the nightmare start to this eagerly-anticipated fixture as space opened up for Hall-Johnson to lash a long-range effort into the top corner.
We responded strongly, however, working a lovely move down the left to set Mitchell up to shoot from near the penalty spot. His goalbound effort was blocked on the line by Harry Lennon, with the referee deeming him to have used his hand. He pointed to the spot, showed Lennon a red card and watched on as Wootton stroked home the penalty to draw things level.
The match settled down after that with Mitchell and Mullin producing tentative efforts at either end.
But we began to assert our dominance towards the end of the first half and, after Matt Palmer had miscued a shot from the edge of the area, Wootton notched his second when the marauding Cameron got away down the left to provide the cross for our top scorer – just as he did in the reverse fixture.
Mitchell was forced off with concussion at half-time, making way for Sam, and we continued to assert our authority on the game in the early part of the second period.
Frank Vincent nearly had a shot at goal after playing an intricate one-two with the impressive Francis, the ball running away from him at the crucial moment, and moments later Wootton couldn’t beat visiting keeper Rob Lainton with a flick from Sam’s low cross.
We looked the more likely side to score the all-important next goal but were dealt a blow on 56 minutes when Vincent was penalised for a high boot in his own area as he tried to clear the ball. The referee pointed to the spot but Patterson correctly guessed that Mullin would strike it low to his right, sprawling to push the ball away to safety.
Four minutes later Sam couldn’t keep his header down after Richardson had raced to the byline to stand up a cross in the middle.
But it wasn’t to matter as, shortly afterwards, a flowing move released Chicksen down the left and his excellent cross was headed over the line by Richardson despite the best efforts of a visiting defender.
We came agonisingly close to adding a fourth when Vincent showed tremendous awareness to thread Richardson into the area, with the wing back checking on to his left foot and firing the ball beyond the helpless Lainton only for a well-placed defender to make a heroic block on the line. The rebound came to Sam but his touch let him down and the danger was quelled.
Richard Brindley made a big block in his own area as the visitors offered a rare threat of a comeback, before at the other end another good chance went begging as Vincent couldn’t capitalise on Sam’s low cross – eventually sending an acrobatic effort wide.
But in the end a two-goal cushion proved more than enough to claim an important three points in our first game of 2022.
STARTING XI: Patterson; Cameron, Lacey, Brindley; Chicksen, Richardson; Palmer, Francis, Vincent; Mitchell (Sam 46'), Wootton
UNUSED SUBS: Slocombe, Nemane, Roberts
BOOKINGS: Cameron 17', Sam 49', Brindley 75'