Melton Town failed to convert their chances as their difficult end to the season continued with derby defeat to Oakham United on Tuesday.
Shane Jarram’s side created enough openings to run away with the game, but second-bottom Oakham hung in to consign Melton to their third straight defeat and their seventh loss in nine.
Town came into their penultimate fixture in need of a boost following 6-0 and 7-0 hammerings at Lutterworth and Huntingdon, but with survival already assured after Bugbrooke and Long Buckby both failed to win.
John Love returned for the first time this season in a strong Town line-up who took the game to the Rutland side, with Kieran Foster threatening down the left.
The first real chance saw Kieran Lane play a ball down the line for Foster who cut in and shot just wide.
Minutes later Foster beat the right-back and sent a pinpoint cross to the unmarked Stef Stapleton who headed just wide.
Another Foster cross then found Love who cleverly flicked it onto Stapleton, but his chip hit the bar and rebounded to safety.
Hibbitt went close with a header and Stapleton’s low shot was inches wide when one-on-one with the keeper as Town dominated.
Oakham’s first real chance came when a long ball down the middle caused a mix-up between Ferrie and Vernon, and Cameron Brookes stole in and sent a first-time shot into the side-netting.
But the deadlock was finally broken when Hibbitt’s long ball put Stapleton clear, and as the keeper hesitated, the Town striker slotted a low shot into the bottom left corner.
This appeared to revive Oakham who upped the pressure.
And it was rewarded seven minutes before half-time when a long diagonal ball found Brookes who outmuscled Vernon and shot past Middleton at his near post.
The second half began with Melton back on the front foot, and they almost restored their lead in the 53rd minute when Love’s cross hit the top of the bar and Stapleton’s follow-up shot was tipped over.
Then against the run of play, Oakham went ahead when Brookes received a low cross on the edge of the area, switched the ball onto his left foot and fired an unstoppable shot into the bottom left corner.
Oakham dug in for the final 20 minutes as Melton launched wave after wave of attacks in search of the equaliser.
Chris Fury came on as sub and made an immediate impact. Receiving the ball midway in Oakham’s half, he made a great run into the area, but his shot was kept out by a finger-tip save.
Minutes later Fury headed Lapworth’s great free-kick against the post, and with time running out, Baker danced his way through the whole defence only to see his final shot cleared off the line.
Oakham deserved the win for their spirit alone, and while Melton played well, they still have a consistency problem.
Town end their season at home to high-flying Rushden on Saturday (ko 3pm), needing a win to bring some respectability to their run-in.
Town: A. Middleton, K. Lane, J. Hollis, J. Ferrie, G. Vernon, K. Foster, C. Hibbitt, J. Baker, J. Clarke, J. Love, S. Stapleton.