Christmas came early for high-flying Olney as Melton gifted their 10-man opponents three points at Digital Deadline Park on Saturday.
Melton started with an intensity not shown in the midweek defeat to rivals Holwell, helped by the return of four key players.
Title challengers Olney had arrived at the DD in good form, but that was thrown into doubt after only 18 minutes.
A 50/50 challenge resulted in Olney’s Robert Tapp kicking out at Cufflin-Stableford while he lay on the ground, and swiftly earned a red card.
This seemed to galvanise the visitors rather than deflate them, and just four minutes later they were in the lead.
A lovely pass split Melton’s defence and Vincent Shrieves ran on to slot the ball under the on-rushing Ash King.
Melton then woke up and stepped up the pressure with Cufflin-Stableford volleying just wide and Palfreyman then missing a sitter.
Eventually, with just nine minutes remaining of the first half, the home side were deservedly level.
Kieran Clayton received Aaron Black’s cross on the edge of the area and when his initial effort deflected back to him, the defender’s sweetly-struck second shot found the top corner.
Melton started to make the man advantage count as they pressured Olney’s defence.
And on the stroke of half-time, Lapworth sprayed a cross-field pass to Aiden Black who ran down the wing, beat a defender and neatly finished from a very tight angle to put Town ahead.
The second half started at a frantic pace with both sides going close.
Black cut in from the byline and his low cross found Cufflin-Stableford in the six-yard box whose first-time shot was cleared over the bar by Williams.
Minutes later Olney found themselves three-on-three when Sam Parrish’s long ball dropped on the edge of the area and Matt Brady’s first-time strike nestled into the bottom corner for 2-2.
King tipped over a 30-yard shot from Brady, and from the resulting corner Whittle’s overhead kick was inches wide.
And with just 15 minutes to go, Melton self-destructed. Aaron Black was floored in a tackle with Olney’s right back and his innocuous trip as the players got back to their feet saw the Town player sent off.
Just minutes later Palfreyman was also sent for an early bath after a two-footed tackle.
Melton’s indiscipline had handed 10-man Olney the numerical advantage and sure enough Town were made to pay late on.
Olney attacked down the right and a superb cross found Drew Mitten at the far post to slot in from two yards.
A defeat which underlined why Melton are on a poor run of form: poor defending, missed chances and a lack of discipline.
Melton return to action after the Christmas break with a big local derby at home to Oakham on Wednesday (ko 7.45pm) when boss Tony Thorpe will be looking for a better performance to end the year with.