FC Halifax Town lost at home in the league for the first time this year as they were beaten 2-0 by play-off contenders Eastleigh.
An own goal from Marc Roberts and James Constable’s 17th league strike of the campaign secured a vital victory for The Spitfires.
Town are probably wishing the season could end two games early after losing their first home game in eight with a performance that, like the one that preceded it at Barnet, never really got going.
While the play-offs are out of Town’s reach this season, they very much remain on the cards for Eastleigh.
They were originally scheduled to come here during what turned out to be a productive January for The Shaymen, with three wins from their four games that month.
But Eastleigh arguably arrived in Halifax at a good time with Town aiming to bounce back from what manager Neil Aspin described as the worst performance he has seen during his reign in their 3-0 defeat at Barnet.
With the play-offs no longer on the radar, this was now a different test for Town, with Neil Aspin casting an eye on his side with next season in mind.
As the Town boss forecast, the atmosphere among the sub-1,000 supporters at the Shay was flat, with the 46 hardy souls who had made the trek from Eastleigh making most of the noise.
They could have been cheering an early goal when Craig McAllister headed wide at the far post during the first couple of minutes.
But they were celebrating minutes later when Jai Reason’s free-kick was headed into his own net by Roberts, prompting the Wembley chants from the visiting supporters.
Given Reason’s quality from dead balls in the return fixture back in October, Town will have been disappointed but perhaps not surprised the goal came from one of the midfielder’s free-kicks.
A superb move involving McAllister, Reason and top-scorer Constable then earned Eastleigh a corner from which the latter flicked a shot just wide.
If Town wanted a glimpse of the standard they’ll need to reach for another play-off push next season, they were getting it.
Richard Hill’s side were composed and creative on the ball, while centre-backs Will Evans and Jamie Turley comfortably won the aerial battle with Jack Muldoon and Jamie Jackson, one of three changes to the Town side.
Fellow incomers Paul Marshall and Kevin Roberts were making their first starts for six games and two months respectively.
Marshall saw as much of the ball as anyone in blue early on but Town looked rushed in possession at times compared to Eastleigh.
The Shaymen looked to exploit the pace of Jackson and Muldoon in behind the Eastleigh defence, and would have done with some better timed runs.
Town were convinced Jackson had timed his run perfectly to latch onto Matt Pearson’s through ball and go clean through, and were angry at another raised flag.
There was no shortage of effort on Town’s part, especially from the industrious front-two, and Halifax were competing much better by the half-hour mark, but a lack of quality when approaching the visitors’ defence let them down.
More often than not, Muldoon was the outlet for Halifax, with his constant movement and insatiable work-rate.
If the home side were playing for their futures, Muldoon was perhaps impressing most during the auditions.
But Eastleigh will have gone in at half-time satisfied with a good half’s work, with Ross Flitney still to be tested in goal.
Perhaps with that in mind, Town switched to a flat-back-four for the second-half, pushing James Bolton up from defence to the right flank and moving Jackson to the left.
But Town needed a lift from somewhere, with the game as flat as the atmosphere after the restart.
Muldoon got a sniff of goal just before the hour-mark from Steve Williams’ nod down, but was quickly crowded out by Turley.
All Constable really had was a sniff of goal too but he engineered a magnificent lob over Matt Glennon from an acute angle to double Eastleigh’s lead, who now looked out of reach.
Flitney was finally tested during a god spell as first Marc Roberts’ header then substitute Danny Hattersley, one of only three on the Town bench, saw efforts saved.
Muldoon then skied a clear chance after latching onto Hattersley’s knock down.
The contest was now all over bar the shouting, which was mainly directed at referee Ian Hussin, the latest in a long list of officials to get the ‘You Don’t Know What You’re Doing’ treatment from the home fans long before full-time.
Hattersley, in probably his best display since rejoining the club, was again denied by Flitney late on.
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton, M Roberts, Williams (Hattersley 65), McManus, K Roberts, Marshall, Hatfield, Pearson (Schofield 82), Muldoon, Jackson. Subs not used: Senior.
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 1
Eastleigh: Flitney, Spence, Turley, Evans, Partington, Stanley, Reason (Howard 89), Midson, McAllister (Burton 72), Strevens, Constable. Subs not used: Beckwith, Pell, Walker.
Scorers: Roberts (og 8), Constable (60)
Shots on target: 2
Shots off target: 4
Town man of the match: Jack Muldoon