LEAGUE champions Winchester City have been given a huge boost in the Sydenhams Wessex League title run-in.

Classy defender Toby Redwood is free to play again as of Monday after winning the appeal against his Hampshire Senior Cup dismissal against Romsey Town.

The 31-year-old centre-back has been out since late last year serving an 82-day ban for violent conduct in November's explosive league game at Wimborne Town.

When he got red-carded again for a scuffle with Romsey's Greg King just over a month later, the club feared it was season over for the experienced former Exeter, Basingstoke and Weymouth campaigner.

But they managed to get an original 114-day ban for the Wimborne offence reduced on appeal and, at a hearing this week, there was not enough evidence to uphold the case against him from the Romsey match.

"Toby was alleged to have thrown a punch, but I didn't see him do anything and neither did anyone else - including the referee," said manager Neil Hards.

"It was the linesman who thought he saw something, but mistakes are made sometimes and we were always confident that Toby had done nothing wrong."

Redwood, an influential member of Winchester's FA Vase-winning side last season, has been sorely missed at the back, particularly since the departures of Mark Blake to Eastleigh, Mat Jones to Salisbury and the loss of Mark Jones with two broken toes.

His reappearance provides a timely boost for the league leaders who were thrown back into chaos two weeks ago when their main financial backer, David Malone, quit for the second time this season.

Hards admitted: "Toby was outstanding before his ban and has been a huge loss to us. He's just pleased to be back and the other players are really happy to see him again."

With Lymington & New Milton winning 4-0 at Brockenhurst on Tuesday, City's lead has been trimmed to two points with the New Forest club holding a game in hand.

AFC Newbury also won 4-3 at title rivals Gosport Borough and they now lurk six points behind Winchester having played two games fewer.

Hards said: "This must be the closest run-in for many years and, given everything that's happened, we're just pleased to be involved.

"The players all got paid last week and we're going to pull together and do as much as we can for the rest of the season."

City's former Bashley and Lymington defender Mark Jones is making good progress from his injury and could feature at Christchurch tomorrow.