Newton Aycliffe suffered a second successive defeat to a relegation rival, as Newcastle Benfield won 3-0 at Moore Lane Park to leave the Royal Blues scrapping for their first division status.
The Newtonians went into the game with a one-point lead over their opponents after losing to South Shields on Tuesday, but the loss leaves them outside the bottom three only on goal difference from Penrith – who have played five games fewer.
And with the next three games against West Auckland, Spennymoor and Shildon, the Aycliffe fans were left dreading what might happen at the end of the month.
It was billed as one of the biggest games in the club’s history and boss Allan Oliver turned to Danny Mellanby to lead by example on the pitch.
James Oliver was preferred to Stuart Owen at left-back, Paul Broom returned to his right-flank and Tom Hinchley partnered Sean Tarling in midfield with Martin Young on the bench.
Aycliffe made the early running as Danny Earl’s right-wing cross found Mellanby, who in turn set-up Fred Woodhouse to shoot, but the forward could not steer his effort on target.
Next it was Mellanby who had a sight of goal, collecting Stephen Gibson’s pass down the left before arrowing a shot just wide.
But it was the visitors who struck eight minutes before the break as Ian Graham went past Darren Craddock and tucked a low shot under Scott Pocklington from the angle.
The Royal Blues looked to rally after the interval, but just two minutes in a corner was cleared to the edge of the area where Steven Brown was waiting to hammer a 30-yard drive into the top corner.
Moore Lane Park was stunned and it soon got worse. A long ball found Brian Dodsworth down the right and he stripped clear of the defence and beat Pocklington from close range.
Aycliffe’s last throw of the dice was to bring on Danny Lambert, Kris Hughes and Sean Reay off the bench, but Hughes had to limp off soon after due to a hamstring injury.
It left Aycliffe a man short and three goals down and there was no way back into the game.
Now they must find a way to avoid relegation back into the second divison.