Bedford Athletic maintained their grip at the top of Midlands One East after a 25-24 win over closest rivals Syston on Saturday.
In a game between two well-matched sides, hosts Bedford were outscored on tries but their calmness in the final minutes paid off.
Pressure in the Syston 22 told in the 12th minute when James Wallace crashed over to score for Bedford.
From a turnover penalty, a routine catch-and-drive lineout, Athletic mauled to the line and Josh Cassell scooted over their second try, James Mortimer converting for a 12-0 lead on 21 minutes.
Thereafter Syston worked their way back into the game. The visitors kicked a penalty into the home 22 and Bedford survived four scrums before they eventually scored via scrum-half Alex Cavner, converted by Alex White to make it 12-7 at half-time.
Syston started strongly in the second-half and scored after a five-metre scrum and several carries later through hooker Craig Lockington to tie the scores at 12-12.
The reply from Bedford was swift. Mortimer floated a sublime cut-out pass crossfield to set-up a charge down the left wing by Cassell for his second try, Mortimer converting for a 19-12 lead.
Syston were by no means done and once more forward power took them over the line for their third try, touched down again by Lockington.
White converted to tie the scores again at 19-19.
Mortimer slotted a penalty to restore the hosts’ lead, 22-19, in the 55th minute.
Syston’s Joseph Knowles-Lorriman was sin-binned for elbowing Athletic captain Watkins which gave Bedford some respite but a midfield scrum saw Syston open up the play and Ian Smith scored down the right wing for a bonus point try and a 24-22 lead on 59 minutes.
Bedford replied again though as they worked hard to win a penalty and Mortimer kicked it for a 25-24 lead on 65 minutes.
Thereafter it was all about possession and the hosts clung on for a crucial win.
Bedford now have a three-point lead over Syston and with only one game left they just need a victory at home to Wellingborough this Saturday to clinch the title.