Brackley Town have slumped into the relegation zone after their dismal run of form continued with a 1-0 defeat away at lowly rivals Colwyn Bay.
Saints have won just one of their last 12 matches, losing nine in the process, to plummet towards the wrong end of the table.
Both sides went into Saturday’s game knowing the outcome could prove decisive in the battle for survival, and it was Rob Hopley’s 66th minute goal that separated the sides, lifting Bay out of the relegation zone to be replaced by their opponents.
Brackley can cling onto the fact that just two points separates them from 16th-placed Gainsborough Trinity with five games still remaining, but this weekend’s home match against mid-table Solihull Moors appears a must-win clash if they are to have any realistic hope of avoiding the drop.
On Saturday, Saints played the better football in a hard-fought first half as on 20 minutes when a fine driving move ended with Sam Whittall shooting not too wide of the mark.
The Seagulls’ keeper Chris Sanna left the field after 24 minutes with an injury to be replaced by the youthful Gareth Rees and Roddy Collins tested the substitute keeper minutes later with an effort from 20 yards.
But as the half concluded, Bay turned the tide, hitting the post from a free-kick and three times more came close as Dean Snedker saved in spectacular fashion from James Ellison, Michael Wilson fired the ball across the face of goal and then Chris Noone could only hook his effort wide in the best chance of a goalless first half.
Brady had his team out early for the second half but it was the home side that was out of the traps first and more composed on the ball in the second period.
Just after the hour Saints’ defence could not clear its lines, allowing Hopley to pick up the loose ball and drive his shot goalwards. Snedker got a hand to the shot but could not keep it out as Bay took the lead and rocked Saints.
A triple substitution immediately brought Will Green, Ryan Rowe and Eric Odhiambo into the fray but Brackley continued to struggle to build momentum or put Rees under any pressure.
That was until the 80th minute when the chance to equalise came and went in an instant as Owen Story’s fine cross saw Rees out of position but the header fell wide. Story’s late effort was fiercely struck and spectacular but too high as Colwyn Bay finished the stronger.
The final minutes became frantic and desperate as both sets of players knew the importance of the outcome. Two red cards brandished after the final whistle, one for each side, only illustrated the charged atmosphere that built in the closing stages.
With five games to play still there will be twists and turns to come but there is no doubting the size of the challenge ahead for Saints.
Brackley: Snedker, Samuels, Fitzsimons, Eddie Odhiambo, Sinclair, Austin, Story, Whittall, Moyo (Green 69), Collins (Rowe 69), Kaziboni (Eric Odhiambo 69). Subs not used: Turley, Sharpe, Pierpoint.
Colwyn Bay: Sanna (Rees 24), Baynes, Lea, Wilson, Royle, Holsgrove, Anoruo (Buckley 73), Noone, Hopley, Williams, Ellison. Subs not used: Haywood, Saeil, Taylor.
Referee: Simeon Lucas