Kettering Town suffered a fifth successive defeat in the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division, despite a spirited second-half display against leaders Leamington at Steel Park.
Two goals from Lee Chilton and a late Stefan Moore effort sealed a 3-1 victory for the Brakes, who moved 11 points clear at the top of the table while Ben Ford’s excellent strike proved to be only a consolation for Alan Doyle’s struggling side.
The Poppies completed two signings ahead of the game with striker Chris Pitharas joining on loan from npower League One side Stevenage while Victor Kemjika also signed on a short-term deal. Both players started on the bench.
Leamington started the game well and they took the lead after 24 minutes when Lee Chilton thundered a 20-yard shot past Yannick Nlate.
Ford curled a free-kick just wide with former Poppies goalkeeper Laurie Walker at full stretch while Nlate had to get down well to save from Ricky Johnson at the other end.
It stayed 1-0 until five minutes into the second half as the visitors doubled their advantage shortly after Kettering midfielder Nathan Hicks had seen a shot deflected wide for a corner.
And it was Chilton again as he beat Nlate with another excellent strike from 20 yards.
But this time, the Poppies’ response was immediate as Ford produced a superb effort from 25 yards that found the top corner.
That goal gave the hosts a lift and Liam Daly was forced to head away the danger near the goal-line with Walker beaten.
The ex-Kettering man had to save well from substitute Joel Gyasi and then could only watch on as Nathan Fox’s deflected effort went narrowly wide.
But, despite the hosts getting on top, they were grateful to Nlate for producing a stunning save to claw James Mace’s header out of the top corner and onto the crossbar as Leamington looked to finish the job.
And they finally wrapped things up in the final minute when Moore scored with a backheel.
The outcome was somewhat harsh on the Poppies after a good second-half display but the defeat means they remain 15 points from safety with just 17 games to play.
A new club record was also broken in the game as Pitharas’ late appearance from the bench saw him become the 57th player used by the club this season.
They now take a break from league action as they head to Daventry Town in an NFA Hillier Senior Cup semi-final on Tuesday night.
Poppies line-up: Nlate, Johnston, Fox, Logan, Eze, Crowie, Noubissie, Hicks, Griffiths, Ford, King. Subs: Gyasi, Muzvimbiri, Pitharas, Turner, Kemjika.
Leamington line-up: Walker, Mace, Morley, Owen, Hood, Daly, Dodd, Chilton, Johnson, S Moore, Batchelor. Subs: L Moore, Naylor, James, Magunda, Cooper.
Referee: Simon Brown.
Goals: Chilton (24 mins, 0-1), Chilton (50 mins, 0-2), Ford (51 mins, 1-2), S Moore (90 mins, 1-3).