We succumbed to a heavy defeat at Sutton United after Aidan Stone saw red early in the first half.
David McGoldrick scored our consolation after the break but goals from Joe Kizzi, Omari Patrick (2), Harry Beautyman and Harry Smith earned the hosts a comfortable win after Stone had been shown a straight red for a foul outside the area with us 1-0 down.
Luke Williams opted to continue with the system he deployed so successfully in our 2022-23 promotion campaign.
That meant one of his fresh faces, Stone, took his place between the sticks.
Ahead of him, Connell Rawlinson was flanked by Kyle Cameron and Richard Brindley in a back three, with Jodi Jones and Aaron Nemane deployed as wing backs.
Our familiar box midfield was in operation once more, with the seasoned partnership of John Bostock and Matt Palmer playing behind the more advanced duo of McGoldrick and Jim O’Brien, who is the only senior member of the squad to have suffered relegation in our previous EFL match at Swindon in 2019.
Leading the line was Macaulay Langstaff, fit again after being left out of our final pre-season run-out at Shrewsbury Town.
Williams had plenty of attacking options on the bench, with Cedwyn Scott, Sam Austin, Dan Crowley, Tobi Adebayo and Adam Chicksen waiting in the wings alongside Aden Baldwin and Sam Slocombe.
Unfortunately, the excitement with which our packed-out away end greeted the team on to the field was quickly dampened on a stormy day in Surrey, as Joe Kizzi rose highest at a second-minute corner to nod the ball home right in front of them.
We responded brightly, Nemane drawing a cynical foul from former Magpie Rob Milsom just outside the area.
But our hopes of marking our EFL return with a positive result were dealt a hammer blow on 15 minutes when Cameron didn’t get enough on his pass back to Stone, with the ball sticking on the saturated surface and forcing Stone to dive at the forward’s feet as he rounded him just outside the area. The keeper brought him down and was adjudged to have been the last man, seeing red.
O’Brien made way for Slocombe, who was relieved to see Milsom’s subsequent free-kick whistle just wide of his post.
Again, we responded to adversity by getting on the front foot and winning a free-kick in a dangerous area thanks to Langstaff. But we were struggling to produce any real quality in the final third and that continued with Bostock’s free-kick, which found the wall.
And our frustrations were compounded moments later when Patrick, who seconds before had sent an effort just wide, doubled his side’s lead with a superb first-time finish following a low cross from the right.
Our response came from McGoldrick 10 minutes later, as he worked space for a shot 25-yards out and saw the ball fly just wide with Jack Rose scrambling.
But it was so nearly three shortly afterwards as Scott Kashket glanced a header off the bar with Slocombe beaten.
Langstaff looped an effort on to the roof of Rose’s net after seeing an initial shot blocked before nine minutes were added on at the end of the half.
And that was to be the final action of note as we returned to the dressing rooms with a huge mountain to climb.
We emerged for the second half unchanged and made a good start to the second period, McGoldrick flicking the ball on for Nemane and watching on as the wing back, now playing down the left, cut inside and sent his shot well over.
But the game would prove to follow a similar pattern as it had in the first half as a promising moment at one end led to a disastrous one at the other as Patrick headed home a right-wing cross to make it three.
It was so nearly four as Eastmond fired a shot off the post, shortly before McGoldrick flicked Langstaff through on goal. The angle was tough for a shot on his left, though, and Rose made a comfortable save.
Patrick, hunting for a hat-trick, then drew a comfortable save from Slocombe – but the keeper was picking the ball out of his net shortly afterwards when Beautyman added a fourth inside the area.
A consolation followed six minutes later as Langstaff chased what seemed to be a lost cause, recovering the ball on the byline and laying it on a plate for McGoldrick to score from 12 yards.
But that goal proved to provide only temporary relief as the towering Smith added a fifth with a perfectly-placed header on 78 minutes.
STARTING XI: Stone; Cameron, Rawlinson (Baldwin 61'), Brindley; Jones (Crowley 73'), Nemane (Chicksen 61'); Bostock, Palmer, O'Brien (Slocombe 18'), McGoldrick; Langstaff (Scott 73')
YELLOW CARDS: Langstaff (5'), Bostock (37'), Baldwin (74')
RED CARDS: Stone (15')
UNUSED SUBS: Adebayo, Austin
ATTENDANCE: 4,010 (1,266)