Leiston missed their first chance to clinch the Ryman North title in their debut season as they went down 3-1 at Maldon and Tiptree and now need at least a draw at nearest rivals Enfield Town this coming weekend if they are to prevent the race going into the final Saturday.
Joe Pearman put Maldon ahead on nine minutes and Leiston struggled to find a way through the home defence until David Head (ex-AFC Sudbury) equalised five minutes after half-time.
The Suffolk side must have been confident at that stage but it was not to be. Sos Yao restored Maldon’s lead in the 72nd minute and Ross Wall made sure.
The odds are still against Enfield Town, who are four points behind after their crushing 5-0 derby victory at Cheshunt. Liam Hope’s 14th-minute penalty was the only goal of the first half and he converted another spot-kick two minutes after the break. That was his 24th league goal, putting him level with Tilbury’s Alex Read and AFC Sudbury’s James Baker in the race for the division’s golden boot.
Walid Matata made it 3-0 midway through the half, igniting a burst of three goals in 11 minutes. Adam Wallace and Bryan Hammatt completed the rout.
Tilbury stepped up to third place and need one point to book a play-off spot after edging out Potters Bar Town at Chadfields. Joe Nightingill scored the only goal on the hour.
The Dockers moved above Needham Market, whose decline continued when they were held to a 3-3 home draw by Romford. Danny Bloomfield (ex-AFC Sudbury) gave the Marketmen a second-minute lead but they wasted chances after that and Joe Bingham’s 25-yarder levelled it shortly before half-time.
Needham regained the lead on 55 minutes and became the first team in the league to reach the 100-goal mark. The goal came from the penalty spot and, perhaps fittingly, it was scored by top marksman Sam Newson, his first since November. He had not regained his lethal form after missing several weeks through injury.
When Duane Wright made it 3-1 in the 73rd minute it seemed that Needham had secured the win which would have made sure of a play-off spot. But two goals in as many minutes from Kurt Smith and Paul Clayton squared it.
Grays Athletic now trail Needham only on goal difference after a 2-0 home win over Brentwood. Joao Carlos struck after five minutes and Danny Charge (ex-AFC Sudbury) added another on the half-hour.
A clash between Jake Hall and Brentwood’s Darren Blewitt brought red cards for both men and there was no further scoring.
Two other sides retain play-off hopes but they are now distant. Redbridge are four points adrift after two late goals wrapped up a 3-1 home win over Heybridge, who had taken the lead through Solomon Ofori in the third minute.
Mitchell Das made it 1-1 with a 14th-minute penalty but there was no further scoring until the 88th minute, when Ryan Murray put the Motormen ahead. Das added another.
AFC Sudbury are a further point back with their promotion hopes virtually ended by a 2-1 defeat at Thamesmead after James Baker had given them a 17th-minute lead with that 24th goal.
That looked likely to settle a game of few chances, but Danny Kerrigan equalised in the 71st minute and Chuck Duru completed the comeback with seven minutes left.
Harlow Town’s lingering play-off hopes were killed off by visiting Waltham Forest, who came from 2-0 down to snatch a 3-2 victory with a goal by Joel Palmer in the fourth minute of added time.
Beaten 7-2 at home in their previous outing, Forest looked set for another hiding as Piers Wixon (ex-AFC Sudbury), with a penalty, and Daniel Elmes put the Hawks 2-0 up in the first half-hour.
But Forest fought back so well that they were level five minutes later thanks to goals from Jamie Moore and Chris Taylor, and in the end they deserved their victory.
At the other end of the table, Great Wakering Rovers are doomed to relegation after their 3-3 draw at Soham Town Rangers. It was a cruel blow for player-manager Dan Trenkel, doubly so because his 66th-minute goal looked certain to keep his side alive until Dan Cotton netted a last-minute penalty.
Michael Simpson put Soham ahead on 21 minutes but Wakering were level moments later through Ashley Hawkins and Billy Johnson put them ahead before the interval. Simpson made it 2-2 shortly after the restart but Trenkel thought he had won it before the dramatic conclusion.
The other relegation place is still up for grabs after Ware’s 2-1 victory at Ilford, where defeat would have sent them down. That looked likely when Rob Carter broke the deadlock by heading Ilford into a 75th-minute lead.
Ware still trailed with four minutes left, but they kept themselves alive when Lewis Rolfe made it 1-1 and Elliot King hit the winner in added time. Ware’s Aime Blessing was sent off but they had to be pleased with a win which leaves them three points behind Ilford and four behind Soham.
A 25-yard drive by Lewis Bristow just after the hour was enough to give Waltham Abbey a 1-0 home win over Chatham Town in the days’ other fixture.