A DEJECTED Ballarat Red Devils outfit exited Morshead Park on Saturday knowing their maiden NPLV race might have been run.
The McDonalds Reds were beaten 2-1 by Werribee City in a six-point, round 24 thriller that could have dire consequences in shaping the relegation zone.
Ballarat started strongly in windswept conditions, with Paul Harvey and Simon Murphy missing opportunistic chances to score inside the first 20 minutes through raking crosses from Daniel Firth.
Michael Trigger nearly broke the deadlock shortly after with a glancing header that forced Bees keeper Tommy Dunn into making a brilliant save.
The Bees, who had struggled in the face of a brutal headwind for so long, took just two minutes to cue Ballarat's heartbreak with a Simon Tolli brace late in the half.
Simon Zappia set up Tolli's first goal, at the 37-minute mark with a sizzling counter attack.
Tolli broke through again just seconds from the restart, prompting words between the Red Devils players as frustration took over.
Werribee maintained its lead into the break but couldn't stop a successful Danny O'Donnell header at the start of the second-half.
O'Donnell's breakthrough restored some hope amongst the Reds before he was substituted off with a leg injury 10 minutes later.
Nelson Salvatore sparked his side (and the home fans) into action with several piercing runs down the wing that tested Werribee's diligent back line.
Each side had a plethora of chances in the final minutes but it was Ballarat which looked more dangerous, despite playing into the headwind.
Murphy wasted two golden opportunities for the equaliser with less than five minutes play.
The first of which came from a bizarre header when running with the flight of a long ball forward.
His courageous effort beat the out of position Dunn 15 metres out from goal, but missed the left upright by inches.
The Reds' danger man sent a volley to the same spot seconds later in what was Ballarat's last real chance to snaffle a much needed point.
Red Devils player manager James Robinson lamented his sides vigour in what he described as a "disappointing" defeat.
"Every game that we've lost, obviously we're the business end of the season and where it was...," Robinson said when asked if the loss cut particularly deep.
"(You) can't come to a game and not get going and have the majority of possession - you look at the stats and different things - they mean nothing."
Ballarat, second last, now sits six points behind Werribee, Port Melbourne and Dandenong on the ladder.
Robinson was keen to emphasise the possibility of a strong end to the season that could yet see Ballarat avoid relegation.
"We've got four games left, 12 points up for grabs," he said.
"It's still in our control, the game stands - we need points on the board."