Blyth Spartans’ bid to win the Evo-Stik Premier League suffered a blow on Saturday when they suffered a home defeat to Skelmersdale United at Croft Park.
Darlington 1883 are now breathing down their necks, a point adrift but with two games in hand and a superior goal difference.
While Spartans were losing 2-1 to their visitors from Lancasher, Darlington were winning 2-0 at Grantham.
Blyth were without the suspended Daniel Maguire and injured captain Robbie Dale against Skelmersdale.
The hosts started tentatively but the first half chance fell to Sean Reid, whose shot from outside the penalty area was directed straight at keeper Martin Fearon.
Then a Michael Richardson ball found Aaron Wearmouth but his effort flashed across the face of goal.
Skelmersdale then went close twice, first when a cross by Chris Almond was headed narrowly wide by striker Max Hazeldine and only minutes later when Hazeldine’s header hit the post and rebounded to safety.
On 13 minutes a clever through ball by Blyth’s Paul Robinson found Richardson in on goal but his shot from a tight angle only found the side-netting.
Two minutes later Richardson rounded keeper Fearon but his goal-bound shot was blocked by a stretching Robert McIntosh.
It needed a superbly timed tackle by Spartans defender Dillon Morse to halt a dangerous run from the impressive Hazeldine.
Michael Brewster brought out a fine save from Blyth keeper Adam McHugh as the visitors continued to press at every opportunity.
Skelmersdale took the lead on 36 minutes when Hazeldine had time and space to round McHugh and tap in from a yard out.
Following the break Blyth tried to force the pace but were caught offside on several occasions. Nevertheless a Robinson effort from 20 yards was deflected only just over the Skelmersdale bar.
As play switched from end to end a cross by Scott Bakkor picked out Hazeldine, who had time to side-step a defender but he fired high and wide.
Ten minutes into the second half Hazeldine picked out Bakkor whose pass was collected by Almond and the winger was able to force the ball over the line from close range to put the visitors two goals ahead.
Blyth got themselves back in to the contest on 68 minutes when Wilson Kneeshaw’s first time effort, following a determined Wearmouth run, proved too much for Fearon.
Kneeshaw came close to equalising following a sweeping move involving Alex Nicholson and Wearmouth, but a superb challenge by McIntosh prevented him getting a shot in on goal.
With 15 minutes remaining Blyth’s Nathan Buddle appeared to have been held down in the penalty box following a dangerous high cross but the referee waved play on.
Three minutes later Blyth won a penalty when Wearmouth was fouled, but stand-in captain Damen Mullen’s shot was well saved by Fearon down to his left.
Skelmersdale responded when Brewster twisted and turned on the edge of the box before bringing out a fine save from McHugh.
As the 90 minutes approached, Kneeshaw dragged a shot wide of the far post before Richardson volleyed over.
Blyth went agonisingly close to scoring when five minutes into added time a sliced clearance looped over keeper Fearon and looked to be dropping in to the top corner of the net. However, Fearon back-pedalled and brilliantly judged the timing of his leap which enabled him to claw the ball away to safety.
On Saturday Spartans are away to Matlock Town.
Blyth Spartans: A McHugh, A Nicholson, J Watson, N Buddle, D Morse, D Mullen, M Richardson, P Robinson (W Kneeshaw 55), S Reid, M Wade (N Hooks 62), A Wearmouth. Subs not used: A Cartwright, D Parker, F Otte.