FC Halifax Town hit a stumbling block on the road to Wembley as they lost 2-1 at Southport.
Town had their play-off place in their grasp before two goals in 10 minutes snatched it away again after Lee Gregory had given the visitors an early lead.
For Halifax to even be part of the if-they-win-and-they-draw mathematics of the season’s business end is an achievement in itself, but it was for Southport that the sums added up come full-time.
The hosts are now assured of survival in the Skrill Premier and few could argue they didn’t deserve it, with the Shaymen still odds-on for a ticket in the end-of-season lottery, which will be guaranteed if Barnet beat Braintree later today.
If not, a win against Kidderminster this weekend will seal it.
Neil Aspin hinted after the Macclesfield win that up to four of his squad were carrying knocks, but there was no question of resting any weary bodies just 48 hours after that hard-fought victory.
And it looked like there was no question of Town doing anything less than marauding over the finish line when Scott Spencer’s delightful back-heel brought order to a few seconds of pinball following Danny Lowe’s free-kick before Gregory swept past Danny Hurst.
The 931 Town fans packed in like sardines in the away end could hardly have dreamt of a better start.
Naturally, the travelling hordes from Halifax soon broke into their full repertoire after that, despite Osayamen Osawe leading the Southport response almost single-handedly.
He forced Matt Glennon into a couple of smart saves in quick succession, with he and Vinny Mukendi boasting a lively combination of speed and strength.
It took some brave blocks to repel the hosts in the immediate aftermath of Gregory’s opener but Town gradually seemed to get to grips with home side.
Osawe remained by far their best outlet though, with James Bolton, back in the side in place of Simon Ainge, fortunate to escape a booking for a clumsy foul on him midway through the half.
But against the run of play, Spencer’s persistence in chasing a long-ball looked to have resulted in a foul by Luke George, but referee Darren England waved away the appeals.
Southport continued to be their own worst enemies as a short back-pass let in Gregory, but Hurst saved well from a tight angle.
Southport had certainly shown enough in the first-half to highlight why they’d won six of their last eight games at Haig Avenue, a statistic which made Town’s lead at the interval all the more commendable.
That lead should have been erased though when Osawe inexplicably put the ball wide with the goal gaping following Glennon’s fine save from John O’Sullivan.
There was a brief interlude from the Glennon v Osawe duel for Marc Roberts to hit the bar with a header before the Town keeper produced another excellent save to deny the Southport winger.
Sustained possession became an increasingly precious commodity as both sides snapped at the others’ heels.
Substitute Marlon Jackson offered an injection pace down the right flank as Osawe continued to prove a menace down Southport’s left.
Captain Scott Brown then fired wide when well-placed in the area before the hosts finally regained parity.
Glennon reacted superbly to tip Aristote Nsiala’s header onto the bar but George was perfectly placed to turn in the rebound.
Neil Aspin clapped his envcouragement from the sideline, perhaps sensing the momentum was firmly in Southport’s favour, with the hosts’ own end-of-season calculations putting them one more goal from safety as things stood.
And that duly arrived with 10 minutes left as David Fitzpatrick struck a thunderbolt across goal that would have reached the coast but for the top corner of the net.
Town’s attack looked decidedly blunted in the absence of Gregory, who had been taken off just before George’s equaliser, presumably with Saturday’s Kidderminster game in mind.
Substitute Josh Wilson came close to ensuring that top-five place was secured once-and-for-all with a superb turn and shot, but Hurst saved well to prolong Town’s fate, at least for a few more hours.
Southport: Hurst, Challoner, Nsiala, George, Fitzpatrick, O’Sullivan, Brown, Dillon, Rutherford (Boothman 64), Mukendi, Osawe. Subs not used: Joyce, Daly, Henry-Francis.
Scorers: George (70), Fitzpatrick (80)
Shots on target: 9
Shots off target: 4
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton, Roberts, C Smith, Lowe, Spencer, (Jackson 46) Maynard, Marshall (Wilson 82), Pearson, McManus, Gregory (Crowther 67). Subs not used: Senior, Ainge.
Scorer: Gregory (5)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 5
Town man of the match: Matt Glennon