CARL Heeley spoke up for his fellow defenders by labelling Worcester City tough-guy Leon Kelly as one of Nationwide North's most formidable strikers.

Former St George's Lane favourite Heeley is still bitter at his sending off during City's goalless draw with Hinckley United -- which he admits spoiled his big return.

The 35-year-old was given his marching orders after clashing with Kelly in two separate incidents.

Heeley's first yellow card came after being ruled to have fouled Kelly from behind. Referee Anthony Horton then showed red when the centre-back pushed his ex-colleague.

Kelly and Heeley were embroiled in a running battle throughout the otherwise dour clash until the latter's dismissal.

"I'm still angry about it," said Heeley. "I thought I was fouled on the first booking. The free-kick should have been mine.

"To be fair, I'm good friends with Leon. We had a chat on the phone the day after the game and I asked him to send my teeth back in the post!

"He did catch me with his elbow, but I was not worried or surprised because that's the way Leon plays. There are no complaints from me. He is a handful for any defender in this league.

"I know what he's like and so does Leon. You know what to expect. If I had let Leon try and run at me, he was going to cause me problems. I had to get close to him because I know I'm as strong as Leon.

"We are both strong lads, competitive, and we've got a lot of respect for each other. The last thing we wanted was to lunge at each other."

Father-of-two Heeley, Worcester's second all-time appearance-maker, said the dismissal ruined his grand return to the Lane after leaving to join rivals Hinckley.

The evening started on a brighter note when Heeley received a rapturous reception from the home crowd and a £5,500 cheque raised in his testimonial year.

Heeley said: "It was a great reception from the Worcester supporters -- they were fantastic. But then the referee had to spoil it.

"If the tackles were flying in everywhere and he needed to get a grip on things, then he had every right to hand cards out. But it was not that sort of game.

"For the second yellow card, the referee said that he sent me off for persistent fouling. The only other foul I committed was that I climbed on the shoulders of Andy Preece. That's not persistent!

"I'm very, very bitter. I'd like to think that those situations even themselves out over the course of the season. But from a personal point of view, I never wanted that to happen. I felt aggrieved to be sent off."

The dismal stalemate gave City their first point of the season but left some supporters wondering if a strong promotion bid was beyond Preece's side.

Heeley added: "It's too early to make judgements until seven or eight games into the season. People are gelling together at Worcester and it will take time.

"I'm seen it many times. Supporters have a right to be optimistic about what they can achieve, but they have to be realistic. This is a very hard league."