Kettering Town suffered a 4-1 defeat at champions Hereford but a late goal elsewhere swung the race for second place in the Evo-Stik South League Premier back in their favour.
Playing their fifth game in nine days, the Poppies found themselves 3-0 down inside the first 15 minutes in front of a record league crowd for the Bulls of 4,556 at Edgar Street.
Dara O’Shea opened the scoring when he fired low into the net following a corner and it was 2-0 just a minute later when Jimmy Oates’ cross was met by a looping header from Rob Purdie which beat Paul White.
And the damage was well and truly done soon after when Oates found Keyon Reffell in the area and he was brought down with Lance Smith beating White from the spot.
The remainder of the first half was largely uneventful but the Poppies were given a lifeline when Mathew Stevens followed up to score early in the second half after a Brett Solkhon effort had struck the post.
However, Smith’s second of the game on 68 minutes made sure of it for Hereford.
But there was a twist to come as former AFC Rushden & Diamonds man Nabil Shariff grabbed a late equaliser for St Neots Town at second-placed King’s Lynn Town.
It now means that, due to their better goal difference, the Poppies should finish second if they win their last two matches of the season against Tiverton Town on Tuesday night and Farnborough next Saturday.
And if they were to finish as runners-up, Marcus Law’s team would guarantee themselves a home play-off semi-final and home advantage in the final if they make it through.