Hinckley AFC slipped to defeat as Kimberley Miners Welfare took a huge step towards the United Counties Division One title with a 3-2 win at Kirkby Road.
The visitors went nine points clear at the top with just four games to go as they put one hand on the trophy with a clinical display.
They were clinical with the chances that came and defended excellently to limit Hinckley’s chance as the league’s best defence came out on top.
It was a good advert for step six and, although neither side created masses of chances, both looked to play good football on a crisp spring afternoon.
Both sides traded early half chances as Lewis Partridge fired straight at Matt Hill from range, before Ben Vallance headed a corner over the bar after visiting ‘keeper Danny Rigley misjudged a corner.
The first goal was always likely to be crucial, and the visitors got it after ten minutes. Hinckley didn’t deal with a right wing corner, and the loose ball fell to Sam Brown who lashed home.
They nearly added a second, but Hill denied Nathan Banton’s downward header with a fine save.
For all Hinckley’s possession, their play too often fell down in the final third against a well-organised Kimberley back line.
When they did get through, Ryan Harkin was uncharacteristically hesitant and Brown, superb in defence as well as clinical in attack, recovered. From the resulting corner, Drew Kear crossed for Jack Edwards to be denied by Rigley.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Hinckley’s build-up play was neat, but they lacked a cutting edge.
And they were punished on the hour when, after a spell of pressure, the visitors caught them with a quick counter and Luis Rose beat the offside trap to square for Sacha Markelic to slot home.
But Hinckley weren’t two down for long. Just four minutes later came the inspiration they needed as Joe Cairns’ 30-yard free kick nestled in the bottom corner.
And they then thought they’d grabbed an equaliser ten minutes later when Liam Cairns wheeled away celebrating his first for the club and a crucial leveller. But referee Sam Anderson had other ideas, blowing up for a handball that bemused Hinckley players and fans alike.
And that proved crucial when, three minutes later, Rose crossed into the box and Brown restored his side’s two-goal among a crowd of bodies in the box.
Not that the game was done there. With a minute to go of normal time, Joe Cairns recycled a set piece back into the box and there was Harkin to convert with a clever glancing header.
But try as they might, Hinckley couldn’t fashion the chance that would rescue a point and the visitors’ wild celebrations at the final whistle were evidence of how important a result this was in their quest for the title.
Hinckley: Matt Hill, Harry Sawyer (Lewis Rankin 90), Drew Kear, Nick Brandish (Dom Alleyne 90), Luke Wilson, Ben Vallance, Joe Cairns, Liam Cairns, Ryan Harkin, Jack Edwards, Charlie Evans (Tom Weale 66). Subs not used: Tyson Knight, Jeremie Agholor
Goals: Joe Cairns (65), Ryan Harkin (89)
Kimberley: Danny Rigley, Lewis Partridge, Tom Eccleshall, Jordan Wheatley, Sam Brown, Ryan Wheatley, Sacha Markelic (Ben Sandhu 90), Michael Pearson (Bijan Parkrouz 56), Luis Rose, Aarron Coyle (Ryan Whitehurst 62), Nathan Banton. Subs not used: Phil Jauch, Louis Tomlinson
Goals: Sam Brown (10, 79), Sacha Markelic (61)