AFC Rushden & Diamonds have been a real force in the UCL Premier Division this season so there was no shame in Deeping Rangers’ 1-0 defeat away at the Dog & Duck on Saturday.
With five games left to play Diamonds are now seven points clear of second place Wisbech Town and look destined for the title.
However despite being injury hit Deeping could have caused an upset once again.
Just over a year ago a magnificent performance by Deeping was fully rewarded thanks to Spencer Tinkler’s last-minute penalty.
This time Rangers’ stand-in skipper stood out during his defensive duties with a key role to restrict clear-cut chances.
A poor game was settled by Tom Lorraine’s clinical finish just before the break.
If a full-strength squad had been available Deeping might have capitalised on the nerves from Diamonds.
But they were without a few senior players and only one substitute was named.
It probably didn’t help that Rangers Reserves had one of their biggest games of the season when they took on Coates Athletic in the semi-final of the PFA Senior Cup.
Deeping’s young side took the favourites for the trophy to penalties after drawing 3-3 but were then beaten 3-1 in the spot-kick contest.
Ahead of the first team’s away day at the leaders Rangers boss Tuncay Korkmaz had labelled his sides ‘massive underdogs’ but because of that said they were under ‘no pressure’.
They certainly didn’t sit back with a negative system for damage limitation – that’s not how Korkmaz wants to send out his players.
The 4-3-3 formation – with Jordan Avis offering more support if possible – could have caused plenty of problems.
However, Deeping only managed one shot on target while a couple of counter-attacks broke down as they reached the final third.
Avis and Mohammed Hamid looked a real threat taking on the home defence and finding space.
Too often, though, they failed to keep possession or pick the right option.
Hamid’s delivery from set-pieces – surely a chance to nick a goal – ranged from abysmal to average.
The opportunity to grab an equaliser came with 14 minutes to go.
Jezz Goldson-Williams cut inside and hit a left-foot drive from the edge of the penalty box but Matt Finlay pushed the shot to safety.
In the first half Levi Wright’s shot was deflected wide and following the corner Scott Ginty fired over the bar.
At the other end, Deeping were coping quite well until Lorraine got behind them to break the deadlock.
Tinkler’s interception had cut out a simple tap-in for Tommy Berwick who also fired wide after Dan Bircham kept out two other efforts and Ben Lewis made a goalline clearance.
Ultimately, just like in the home game last month, Deeping didn’t quite have enough left despite coming close to a shock result.
They offered little going forward and never looked capable of inflicting a first home league defeat of the season.
After 13 games unbeaten, Diamonds are a step closer to being the champions.
Deeping meanwhile will turn their attention to the visit of Holbeach United to the Haydon Witham stadium on Tuesday night (7.45pm ko).
AFC Rushden & Diamonds: 4-4-2: Finlay; Merrill (sub Joseph 77 mins), Dolman, Ashton, Brown; Lamb-Johnson, Harris, Bunting, Gearing (sub Rogers 71 mins); Berwick (sub Dunkley 67 mins), Lorraine. Subs not used: Butt, Redding.
Deeping Rangers: 4-3-3: Bircham 6; Flack 7, Tinkler 8, Lewis 7, Smith 6; Palmer 6, Ginty 6, Avis 6; Hamid 6, Wright 5, Goldson-Williams 5 (sub Sparrow 79 mins).
Referee: Robert Stanley.