The thread Kettering Town’s season was hanging by looks like it has now snapped.
Marcus Law’s team have, to their credit, been doing as much as they can to keep their slim hopes of finishing in the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division play-off places alive in recent matches after things looked all said and done some three or four weeks ago.
But, given the gap between themselves and the top five, the margin for error was smaller than ever to such an extent that one more defeat really couldn’t be afforded.
Unfortunately, such has been the story of the Poppies’ season, their inconsistency struck at just the wrong time at a blustery Latimer Park as Chesham United picked up a 2-1 success.
The inquest into Kettering’s failure to challenge for promotion will, no doubt, begin when the mathematics have been confirmed.
And when they look back, they will ultimately focus on a slow start to the season and their generosity in gifting goals to their opponents goals.
It struck again in this one. Chesham scored twice in as many first-half minutes and that devastating 120-second spell proved decisive.
But the truth is, it could and probably should have been even more comfortable for the visitors who were lively throughout the first half.
Paul White was forced into an early save after 44-year-old Barry Hayles played in Phil Roberts down the left following a mistake from Brett Solkhon.
But the game was all-but lost for the Poppies after Chesham hit them with that devastating double.
Their opener on 12 minutes couldn’t have been simpler as Sam Youngs’ corner from the left was met by Roberts at the near post and his effort was too good for White.
And just two minutes later, Youngs got on the scoresheet himself as he converted Ryan Blake’s cross from the right.
Blake lobbed wide of the mark after another Solkhon error and, after Aaron O’Connor had shot narrowly wide at the other end, Chesham were given a golden opportunity to make it 3-0.
Liam Canavan was harshly penalised for a foul on Blake in the area, even though the tricky winger looked like he lost his footing before any contact was made.
But a sense of justice followed as White kept Toby Little’s spot-kick out with his legs.
There was uproar at the other end when huge claims for a penalty were waved away when James Brighton went down under a challenge.
But Kettering needed a strong start to the second half and they got that after Law had thrown on Jack Kelly and Nathan Hicks at the break.
Hicks sent a 25-yard strike wide before O’Connor’s effort from a Kelly cross was kept out by Ashlee Jones.
But there was hope on 65 minutes when Rene Howe, who has been outstanding in the second half of the season, found the top corner to throw the Poppies a lifeline.
Unfortunately, they didn’t create another clear-cut chance as the expected assault on the Chesham goal never really materialised.
Instead, the visitors found space on the break and Roberts shot over from a good position before the game ended on an even lower note for the Poppies when White was sent off after charging from his goal and hacking down Blake as he raced down the left channel.
That meant the briefest of stints in goal for Liam Bateman but the final whistle soon followed with the damage being long done.
Unfortunately, emotions spilled over immediately after the final whistle as Poppies fans and Chesham’s players confronted each other with visiting defender Darren Purse jumping the rails at one stage, resulting in much commotion near the tunnel.
Whether there will be ramifications for those scenes remains to be seen.
But, as far as the Poppies’ season is concerned, it really does look to be all over now...
Poppies: White; Bateman, Mulligan, Solkhon, Langdon; Canavan (sub Kelly, h-t), Hornby (sub Hicks, h-t), Brighton, Howe; Hall (sub John, 78 mins), A O’Connor. Subs not used: Malone, J O’Connor.
Chesham: Jones; Crilley, Purse, Mitchel-King (sub Hamilton-Forbes, 41 mins), Little; Taylor, Martin; Roberts, Youngs, Blake (sub Pearce, 90 mins); Hayles (sub Hutton, 80 mins). Subs not used: McCorkell, Ujah.
Referee: Mark Howes.
Goals: Roberts (12 mins, 0-1), Youngs (14 mins, 0-2), Howe (65 mins, 1-2).
Bookings: Blake, Jones (both unsporting behaviour).
Sending-off: White (professional foul).