Bedford Athletic extended their lead at the top of the Midlands One East table with a 21 points to 18 victory over second placed Derby.
In a close match at Putnoe Wood, a drop goal from James Mortimer in the final five minutes saw Athletic secure a vital win at the top of the table.
Athletic made a shaky start as wing Stephen Woodhead marginally mistimed his tackle on his opposite number, conceding a penalty when a yellow card could have been issued.
Derby missed the penalty kick and Bedford took full advantage as Ben Middleton stole the ball from a Derby lineout and the home backs were quickly brought into play, with Tommy Mills finishing the opportunity in the corner for a 5-0 lead.
Athletic did not secure the kick-off, and a grubber kick from Derby fly-half George Castledine saw him taken out with a late tackle; he converted the penalty to narrow the gap to 5-3.
Thereafter, Derby began to dominate the play. Having pushed Bedford back to their own line, a clearance kick failed to make touch and Derby moved the ball across the field to allow right wing Lewis Hancock time and space to score their opening try which Castledine converted.
Shortly afterwards, he kicked a penalty and Derby led 13-5 on the half hour mark.
Bedford began to work their way back into the game in the 10 minutes before half-time but only had a further Mortimer penalty to show for it as Derby deservedly led 13-8 at the break.
Athletic upped their intensity at the start of the second half and a more direct approach soon paid dividends as Mortimer converted a penalty to cut the deficit to 13-11.
More pressure was now being exerted on the visiting line and full-back Ryan McFadyean went to the sin bin for killing the ball in a home attack.
Woodhead was forced to retire injured and his replacement Tom Dolemore was almost through a gap minutes later, only to be stopped just short of the line.
The home side’s pressure paid off on the hour mark as, from a lineout, a series of pick and drives eventually saw scrum-half Tom Orton snipe over from a ruck, with Mortimer’s conversion restoring Bedford’s lead at 18-13.
However, they were caught napping following a lengthy injury delay and a break down the wing by Hancock twice saw Dolemore give away penalties and eventually receive a yellow card.
Five metres from the Bedford line, Derby chose a scrum and Dougie Backhouse was able to pick up and ground the ball in the corner for the equalising try. Castledine missed the conversion to keep the score at 18-all.
Athletic secured the restart and, several phases of play later, Mortimer kicked the drop goal that made the final difference.
A closely fought win was a good way to start the New Year for the home side, and the next test sees Bedford travel to Huntingdon for a local derby on Saturday in defence of their 10-point lead.