TIVERTON Town missed the chance to consolidate their grip on the final play-off spot with a heavy defeat away to mid-table Didcot Town on Saturday.
Playing their first match in just under a month, the Yellows missed a glut of chances – with league top scorer Joe Bushin particularly culpable – in a first half which saw them go in 1-0 down to Jamie Heapy's goal.
The Yellows' fortunes rapidly deteriorated after the break, with Elliott Osborne-Ricketts converting a penalty following a scramble in the box. Jules Emati-Emati forced an own goal from Luke Carnell to pull one back for Tivvy, only for Pablo Haysham to restore the two-goal lead.
A penalty gave Tiverton a lifeline, only for Bushin to sky the spotkick, before Haysham slotted home Didcot's fourth after being given a clear run on goal.
"Anyone who picks up the paper will see we lost 4-1 and think 'what's gone on there?' but we know different," said manager Mark Saunders.
"It was certainly a case of missed chances, that's for sure. We probably had six or seven good chances in the first half where you would have hoped to score at least four.
"We just were not putting the ball away when we were in good positions. Joe Bushin had a one-on-one with the keeper and missed, while Lewis Tasker was one-on-one, albeit at a slight angle, and he missed it too.
"Joe missed three or four good chances throughout the game and, to cap it all off, he missed a penalty too.
"With the form he has been in lately, you would have expected him to score at least one of them.
"The keeper also made a good save from Paul Kendall and we missed one more good chance after that. The only goal we did score, Jules has done ever so well to dig the ball out with his feet and the ball actually went in off the defender so you could say it was an own goal.
"To think that we had all of those chances and the one we did score was probably an own goal is unbelievable, but that's the way it goes sometimes.
"Considering we had not played for so long I thought we were excellent in the first half. It was just a case of us not scoring our chances.
"Still, if you do not take your chances then you do not deserve to win football matches."
As well as Tivvy's profligacy in front of goal, Saunders also admitted to being frustrated at their careless nature at the back.
The Yellows' defence has been crucial to their recent fortunes, and they boasted the league's fourth-tightest defence ahead of Saturday's match, but Saunders felt three of the four goals conceded were avoidable.
"Tom Gardner has had a great game in defence, but he made one error and got punished for it," he said.
"Chris Wright has let one go through his legs. Okay, he has said it swerved a bit, but I would still want him to do a bit better.
"For the last one, our centre-backs go charging up for a free-kick, Andy Taylor takes it quickly but Lewis Tasker isn't on the same wavelength and they pick up the ball. All they have to do is knock it up to their centre-forward on the halfway line and he has a clear run on goal."
Perhaps the only bright spot to come out of the defeat for Tivvy was that most of their play-off competitors fared little better.
Sixth-placed Paulton Rovers suffered a 1-0 defeat away to struggling Sholing, although they still have a game in hand over the Yellows and trail by just two points.
Wimborne Town could only manage a 0-0 draw with Clevedon Town ,who Tiverton play tonight (Tuesday, 7.30pm) at Ladysmead.
What was of concern to Saunders was Yate Town's 6-1 victory over Winchester City, with the Gloucestershire side now having won seven on the bounce and eight of their last nine.
That is in stark contrast to Tivvy, who have now gone eight matches without a win in league and cup.
"Most of the sides around us lost so that is good," said Saunders, who will be without Dave Pearse (groin) against Clevedon.
"We are still in the play-off spots and we want to stay there. Paulton lost but Yate won and they are in a terrific run of form.
"Other teams are putting runs together, it is just that we are having our bad spell now."