Murray United is a huge risk of being relegated to the third tier of the Victorian NPL after a disappointing 4-1 loss to Northcote City at La Trobe on Saturday.
The Border side was outworked by the classy visitors and now has just seven games to make up a nine-point buffer to sixth-placed Goulburn Valley Suns.
Northcote hit the front in the 33rd minute when James Wilson slipped in behind the Murray defence and beat the keeper one-on-one.
The hosts regrouped after half-time and began to work their way into the game.
Tom Youngs had Murray's best chance six minutes in, but it was well saved.
Northcote got a second against the run of play from the boot of Alistair Dunlop in the 64th minute and Wilson had a brace 15 minutes later to make it 3-0.
Alex West pulled one back for the home side in the final minute, before Northcote made it 4-1 in stoppage time through Feston Azizi.
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To rub salt into the wound, Murray midfielder Josh Zito had to be helped from the field at full-time after hurting his knee in a challenge.
Murray coach Elliot Jones admitted his side played in patches and made crucial errors.
"The first goal they scored was a mistake by us, their second goal a guy beat two or three players which shouldn't happen and I think the fourth goal was a mistake again by us," he said.
"I think they had four shots (on target) for the whole day and they win the game 4-1 and that's the difference at this level.
"They were consistent, compact and organised and thoroughly deserved their win.
"We spoke about wanting to get on the ball and play through the lines a bit and that didn't eventuate.
"Northcote applied a lot of pressure and sometimes that perceived pressure makes you go long and direct.
"We were almost forced to have to play and take them on, but again mistakes are costing us goals. You can't defend four goals against, it's just not good enough."
Jones said Northcote did all the little things better.
"They gave us a touch up. They transitioned better than us, they went forward in numbers better than us, they transitioned defensively and I thought they outworked us in that regard," he added.
"It's disappointing, we were up for this game, we spoke about it during the week and knew it was a big game for the club and we just didn't get it done today."
The ladder after round 21 is: Eastern Lions 43, Bulleen 37*, Northcote City 35*, Manningham United 32, Langwarrin 30*, GV Suns 29, Melbourne City 20*, Murray United 20, Box Hill United 18, Springvale 17*.
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