Bedford Athletic were unlucky to go down by a single point at Midlands One East league leaders Syston 19-18 on Saturday.
They contended well and led until the final five minutes, succumbing to a late try.
The defeat leaves them four points off the top at the season’s mid-point, in third.
With the majority of possession, territory and an early advantage in the scrum, Bedford scored first as James Mortimer’s chip over the top allowed Josh Cassell to feed Nick Thomas on 10 minutes, Mortimer converting.
Cassell then had to step in to stop an overlap which led to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on and immediately Bedford were under pressure.
They survived, in part thanks to their scrum dominance and Syston’s hooker Craig Lockington being sin-binned in the 26th minute for driving out of the scrum.
Thereafter both teams proved to be equally matched, proficient at running through continuous error-free phases and adept at containing each other in defence.
Athletic incurred the wrath of the referee again at the scrum when tight head Clarke was sin-binned in the 39th minute but it was the visitors who carried a 7-0 lead into half-time.
Syston made the man advantage tell in the second-half as they set up a series of pick-and-drives before prop Josh Kilby forced his way over to score. The conversion was missed so Bedford still led 7-5 on 45 minutes.
Athletic extended this to 12-5 on 51 minutes when Cassell cut a great running line through the middle that created an overlap for Stephen Woodhead to superbly finish his 99th try for the first team.
Athletic could not hold though and on the hour, Syston scored again through Kilby, Laurie Harries converting to tie the scores.
Mortimer penalties on 64 and 69 minutes put Bedford in front 18-12, but Syston were once again able to repeat their drive and maul play to force a winning converted score from Alex White.
This Saturday, Bedford host Bugbrooke (2.15pm).