Hinckley AFC prevailed in an action-packed encounter as they saw off Hucknall Town by the odd goal in nine at Watnall Road.
The two play-off contenders served up a thriller as Hinckley galloped into a Grand National day lead and were three ahead by half time.
But a Craig Westcarr-inspired Hucknall comeback saw him hit a 13-minute hat-trick to pull them level before Ryan Harkin snatched it for Hinckley late on.
On a blustery day in Nottinghamshire, Hinckley had the wind at their backs for the opening stages and raced into an early lead. Joe Cairns’ superb delivery invited a touch, and his cousin Liam Cairns provided it with his first goal for the club at the far post.
Chances were few and far between at either end for much of the half with the conditions playing their part. The only save of the half was made by the home side’s Keaton Sharpe when he tipped over from Joe Cairns.
But Hinckley doubled their lead shortly before half time when one quickly became two for the former Coventry United man. It was a Cairns family affair again as Joe recycled a set piece into the box and Liam’s header ghosted past any further touches as it nestled inside the bottom corner.
And, after Nick Brandish volleyed Ben Vallance’s cross wide at the far post, Hinckley added a third in stoppage time when Joe Cairns drilled home after good work by Harkin and Charlie Evans.
It meant Hinckley were lengths ahead at the break, but they didn’t make life easy. Just three minutes of the second half had passed when Matt Hill punched only as far as Joe Ashurst, who found the top corner.
But the visitors soon restored their three-goal advantage through a classy Harkin finish. Jordan Phillips made a mess of clearing his lines, but Harkin punished him with a wonderful first-time strike from the edge of the box.
That should have set Hinckley on their way to the finish line but Hucknall, and in particular Westcarr, had other ideas.
A brace of penalties brought his side back within a goal, sending Hill the wrong way firstly after Tom Weale had fouled Jamie Crawford, and again seven minutes later after Luke Wilson brought down Cayne Maxwell.
Now the momentum was with the Yellows and the comeback was complete when Westcarr got in behind too easily from a ball over the top and lobbed the onrushing Hill to level.
Hinckley were rocking, and were close to falling behind when Ashurst tried his luck from the halfway line and his clean strike sailed narrowly too high.
But while Hucknall came within inches of the lead, they fell at the final fence as Hinckley went ahead by a nose again. After a loose ball fell his way, Harkin rifled a shot into the roof of the net from close range to spark roars of celebratory relief among AFC’s players and fans.
Hinckley still had to ride out pressure late on as Hill saved from Grant Ryan and Crawford, while Harkin missed a golden chance for his hat-trick at the other end.
But they held on for what could prove to be a vital win as they remain second in the table heading into the final three games.
Hucknall: Keaton Sharpe, Courtney Bartley, Oliver Brown, Joe Ashurst, Lenford Jenkins, Jordan Phillips, Jamie Crawford, Michael Banister (Aaron Lamb 65), Craig Westcarr, Grant Ryan, Joe Butler (Cayne Maxwell 56). Sub not used: Matt Brian
Goals: Joe Ashurst (48), Craig Westcarr (62 pen, 69 pen, 75)
Hinckley: Matt Hill, Nick Brandish, Ben Vallance, Liam Cairns, Luke Wilson, Ben Whitehead, Harry Sawyer, Tom Weale (Tyson Knight 67), Ryan Harkin, Joe Cairns (Jack Edwards 73), Charlie Evans (Dom Alleyne 80). Subs not used: Lewis Rankin, Isa Abraham
Goals: Liam Cairns (4, 41), Joe Cairns (45), Ryan Harkin (51, 85)