Melton Town strengthened their United Counties League promotion bid with a narrow win over close rivals Aylestone park on Tuesday.
Sam Beaver’s late strike settled an important top-four battle at Signright Park against opponents who had kicked off just a point and place behind.
And with two other promotion rivals held to draws in their midweek matches, third-placed Town established a four-point gap to the two teams below them, and with two games in hand.
County rivals Aylestone Park arrived with confidence, buoyed by a run of impressive results, including a 4-1 defeat of second-placed Long Buckby.
Both teams opened with defences playing a high line, and the first chance fell to Nathan Arnold after eight minutes after Beaver and Zac Munton combined, but the ball would not come down for the former Lincoln striker.
Corey Buccalossi then stole the ball as Aylestone dithered in midfield, and played in Munton who quickly turned Grassby and fired a shot which Holyoak gathered at the second attempt.
Injury saw player-manager Tom Manship replaced early on by Chris Hibbitt, and the game developed into a stalemate, with both defences resolute.
But Melton should have led on the half-hour when a quick ball into Munton and one-two with Arnold found Town’s leading scorer clear on goal, but he sent his effort inches over the bar.
Park’s first real chance came five minutes before the break when a 10-pass move ended with Harry Sheffield free on the edge of the area and his powerful shot brushed the top of the bar.
But six minutes into the second half the visitors were in danger of undoing all their hard work when Marriott’s backpass was cut out by Munton.
He curled a great shot which hit the inside of the post and rolled agonisingly along the line.
Hibbitt’s through-ball beat the offside trap and found Munton once more clear on goal, but Grassby’s brilliant last-ditch tackle put the ball out.
Town again went close when Holyoak tipped over Munton’s half-volley following Jordan Lever’s deep cross.
Aylestone’s first shot on target came with 15 minutes left when the ball was slipped in between Cameron Gilchrist and Fray to Preston whose first-time shot forced a god save from skipper Rob Peet.
Sub Laithan Hammond shot inches over the bar, and Buccalossi slid a shot in just past the post after a one-two with Munton.
The game was heading for a repeat of last season’s goalless draw, but Town finally broke through with five minutes left.
Peet’s clearance was dummied by Buccalossi to sub Kadeem Harris who drove towards the edge of the area and sent in a low cross which Beaver sweetly diverted into the bottom corner to send the home support wild.
A hard-fought match between two teams with real promotion credentials, with Melton deservedly claiming all three points.
Town closed to within four points of top spot, ahead of back-to-back home games, with Bourne the visitors on Saturday (ko 3pm), followed by bottom side Lutterworth on Tuesday (ko 7.45pm).
Town: Peet, Beaver, Benjamin, Manship (Hibbitt), Gilchrist, Fray, Lever (Harris), Buccalossi, Munton, Arnold, Cummings (Hammond).