AN early red card proved crucial as Tilbury suffered a 2-1 defeat to Isthmian North new-boys Cambridge City.

Oli Spooner’s first half dismissal gave the Dockers a numerical disadvantage and, although George Sykes converted a late penalty, goals from Adam Watkins and Matt Sparrow ensured Cambridge would triumph in the opening day clash.

Tilbury should have taken an early lead as Ola Ogunwamide beat the offside trap before firing wide.

But the Dockers were reduced to 10 men with just 18 minutes played as Spooner was dismissed after raising his hands.

And Cambridge profited as, just past the half hour mark, Watkins’ long range strike deflected into the back of the net.

Tilbury saw penalty appeals waved away despite Toby Aromolaran appearing to be pushed.

Cambridge doubled their lead 11 minutes into the second half as Sparrow added his name to the scoresheet.

Tilbury responded with Aromolaran being left frustrated by a goal-line clearance.

The Dockers halved the deficit through a Sykes spot-kick with eight minutes remaining, but the hosts were unable to find a late leveller.