FC Halifax Town dropped out of the National League play-off places after they lost 2-0 at Ebbsfleet.
After an even first-half, Town conceded for only the second away game in seven this season through substitute Sean Shields, who added another later in the half.
Halifax were bright in fleeting moments, but were too often blunt in attack, especially after half-time, with Tom Denton ineffective; when Town’s big striker has an off day, the whole team usually does too, such is his influence.
Ebbsfleet were solid and didn’t give much away, hence their countless draws this season, but The Shaymen never grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck as against Bromley or Leyton Orient.
Town are only three points off first place but will need an improved performance against Wrexham on Tuesday night if that gap isn’t to be increased.
Town started like a team who had won six of their last eight games, hungry for the ball, looking lively when they had it and working hard when they didn’t.
Josh Macdonald showed a great turn of speed to produce a run and cross early on which Adam Morgan met with a first-time shot that was parried away.
Sam Johnson then kept out a rasping shot by the nippy Darren McQueen after he’d latched on to a long ball forward.
Matty Kosylo struck the post after cutting in on his right-foot, then Johnson was called upon to keep out home captain Danny Kedwell’s shot from a tight angle.
Halifax were more comfortable on the ball than Ebbsfleet, but the hosts possessed a pacey attack in winger Myles Weston and the lively McQueen, which had the potential to cause problems.
Neither team had the ascendancy or played particularly brilliantly, with Ebbsfleet’s attacks too often breaking down through loose forward passes and Town’s high balls up to Denton not bearing much fruit.
Halifax’s cause wasn’t helped by the departure of the creative Connor OIiver with an ankle injury for the more workmanlike Danny Clarke after half-an-hour, as Billy Heath’s patched-up team underwent another alteration; if his requirement for reinforcements wasn’t urgent enough before the game, it’s surely bordering on desperation now.
Nathan Hotte had already moved into the back four in place of the suspended Scott Garner, but he and the incoming David Lynch both slotted in fairly seamlessley.
Macdonald and Kosylo again looked Halifax’s best outlets, but didn’t really see enough of the ball.
Weston sent a left-foot shot crashing just wide after a nice one-two with Kedwell just before the break, but neither team had quite done enough in the opening-half to deserve a lead.
Heath will have been disappointed that Ebbsfleet didn’t have to work particularly hard to take the lead, with Shields allowed to cut in on his right-foot by Cliff Moyo before Johnson was beaten at his near-post by the low shot.
Denton had two efforts off target in quick succession as Town responded well to Shields’ goal, but looked in need of some inspiration.
Kosylo, usually the man to provide it, had a low shot from an acute angle saved by Ashmore, but an equaliser looked increasingly unlikely as the second-half went on, with Denton’s nod down’s still regularly misplaced.
By the time Shields added his second, a mirror image of his first as his low shot, this time from the right, flashed past Johnson at his near post, there looked no way back for The Shaymen; if anything, Ebbsfleet could have added more.
Ebbsfleet: Ashmore, Magri, Clark, Bush, Connors, Weston, Rance, Powell, Drury (Shields 42), Kedwell, McQueen (Coulson 77). Subs not used: McCoy, Miles, Mills.
Scorer: Shields (48, 72)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 6
Halifax: Johnson, Moyo (McManus 81), Brown, Hotte, Wilde, Macdonald (Charles 64), Oliver (Clarke 32), Lynch, Kosylo, Morgan, Denton. Subs not used: Nicholson, Tomlinson.
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 4
Referee: David Rock
Town man of the match: Matty Brown