North Shields were knocked off their perch at the top of the table as they went down to a lone goal at the hands of title favourites Shildon.
The Railwaymen have games in hand and if they came content for just a point can be satisfied when a Billy Greulich-Smith header on the hour gave them all three.
Only a set-piece separated the sides and Shields boss Graham Fenton was disappointed at the outcome but immensely proud of his players.
He said: “I thought a draw would have been a fair result. They were hanging on in the end.”
Indeed a number of observers thought that the better team had lost but nonetheless it sets the scene for a fascinating late season run-in.
Kieran Wrightson’s delicious strike had dumped Shildon out of last season’s League Cup at the Daren Persson Stadium.
This time he retained his right back role as the Tynesiders were unchanged from their Vase victory with new signing Gary Day, from Newcastle Benfield, named on the substitutes bench.
Shields were nearly caught out from the whistle as Mark Donninger somehow missed the target then Greulich-Smith miscued at the far post.
Thereafter chances were at a premium though it still proved an enticing fare for the bumper crowd of more than 500.
Shields had penalty shouts when Dean Holmes was impeded by Shildon keeper Kyle Hayes but the winger kept his feet and play was waved on.
Stalemate at the break and nothing goalworthy until that decisive header on the hour.
Only a stunning finger-tip save from Hayes denied Gareth Bainbridge a leveller and sustained late pressure which saw an effort hacked off the line failed to bring any reward.
North Shields: Bannon, Wrightson (Donnison 54), Grey, McKeown, Parker (Day 73), Hughes, Morris (Luccock 73), Forster, Bainbridge, Richardson, Holmes. Subs (not used) Coppen, Walker.
The home games continue with Jarrow Roofing the visitors on Saturday (3pm).
Following on Phoenix Sports come on Saturday, February 7, for the FA Vase Fifth Round clash then its back to league action with West Auckland travelling to Tyneside.