Melton RFC slipped to their first league defeat of the season as a determined Lutterworth kept their promotion hopes alive.
Melton travelled with a degree of optimism having beaten their opponents comfortably at home, and knowing that a victory would all but secure the league title.
However, they had not reckoned on the determination of the home side as they look to qualify for a play-off position on the back of a string of good results.
The match began at a frenetic pace with the early exchanges dominated by some excellent defence on both sides.
Lutterworth tore into Melton at every opportunity as they sought to find a way through some determined tackling, particularly by Lee Miller and Chris Rose.
Both sides came close to scoring in the first quarter, only to be denied by last-ditch tackles and defiant defence.
The breakthrough came when Melton mounted a ferocious assault on the Lutterworth pack and a concerted drive from the forwards saw Sam Badham driven over for the opening try, converted by Matt Cox.
Not to be outdone Lutterworth pressed for a reply with their dangerous centres causing problems, but resolute tackling by Carl Prior and Gareth Collins stemmed the tide.
Yet Melton conceded a string of penalties which gave up valuable territory far too often. The referee finally lost his patience with Leon Gormley, a target for much of the game, and the flanker picked up a yellow card for infringing too often.
The resulting penalty reduced the deficit to 7-3 at half-time.
Once Gormley rejoined the fray, Melton had a purple patch of territory and possession, having worked hard in defence while a man down.
A well-worked lineout, which strangely misfired most of the afternoon, saw the Melton drive back Lutterworth’s pack. But close-quarter drives were stopped just short with Dan Wakefield and Wayne Brookes coming within inches of the line.
This proved a turning point as Lutterworth held out and launched a series of counter-attacks and drove upfield.
A series of attacks in the Melton half saw Cox harshly yellow-carded in front of the posts, giving the home side an easy penalty to reduce the arrears.
Having to defend with 14 men again proved a tough assignment and Lutterworth quickly exploited the advantage when quick passing gave their winger an overlap and a try under the posts. The conversion opened up a 13-7 lead.
Melton came back strongly as they strived to make inroads against some determined tackling, roared on by a vociferous and hostile home crowd.
The visitors were frustrated by the continuing failure of the lineout as numerous efforts went unrewarded and Lutterworth thrived on turnover ball.
The penalty count continued to mount, giving Melton no opportunity to exert much pressure as they played catch-up rugby.
Only excellent tackling from Mark Matthews and James Woolley prevented certain scores. But Lutterworth did have the final word when yet another penalty was conceded and the kick was converted for the final points of a rugged encounter which the hosts deservedly won.
Melton captain Marcus Badham was disappointed to lose their unbeaten record, but with three games left and a six-point lead, his side are still well placed to secure the title.
* The league schedule breaks for Easter before Melton return with a mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash with Market Harborough on Saturday, April 2 at Burton Road.