Hale Leys United suffered a huge blow in their bid for a third successive South Midlands League Division Two title when they were beaten by Kent Athletic 2-1 on Saturday.
The two sides have been tightly-matched all season in the race for the title but this defeat hands the initiative to Kent, who are now just two points behind Hale with two games in hand.
Hale were missing Jack Bowers and Tom Brindley for this clash, which left manager Paul Alleyne needing to reshuffle his pack.
Those absentees had a detrimental impact too as Kent struck first blood early on when Pat Daly easily slotted home after Leys had failed to clear their lines.
United were lacklustre throughout the first period and Daly duly added another to put Kent in charge and two ahead going into half-time.
Mitchell Ross and Niall Williams made way for Riccardo Whittle and Anthony Kew for the second half, and those changes had the desired effect when Whittle powered his way into the box before teeing up Sean Coles, who smashed home from 12 yards.
Hale now bombarded the Kent box in search of the equaliser but both Coles and Daniel Parsons were off target and the visitors held on for a crucial victory.
Alleyne said: “Well I can’t speak for the players but from what I saw the first half was poor and we only switched on in the second and left it too late to respond.”
Hale face Loughton Manor this weekend.