Harrogate Town slumped closer towards the Conference North relegation places following a poor 2-0 defeat at home to Hednesford Town.
Goals from Hednesford defenders James Hurst and Ben Bailey deflated the home supporters as Town went a seventh game without a victory.
Simon Weaver’s men are now just five points above the bottom three in 16th place, with several teams below them playing catch-up.
Following the heavy defeat at rivals Guiseley on New Year’s Day, Weaver made five changes for the Staffordshire side’s visit.
Talisman James Walshaw was benched with Thursday’s goalscorers Jordan Thewlis and Jake Speight handed starting roles.
In his first start for Town, former Stockport County midfielder Jamie Milligan was given the captain’s armband, as Dave McGurk missed the clash through illness.
Leigh Franks took McGurk’s place while Rhys Meynell also returned at left-back for Craig Nelthorpe.
The early opportunities fell to the visiting squad with winger Richard Batchelor blazing the best of them over.
Town responded with a crashing tackle by centre-back Luke Shiels on the edge of the area that almost crept into the corner.
Hednesford showed plenty of flair on the break. From a clever pass forward, striker Steve Diggin beat the offside trap only to angle his shot jus wide of the far post.
Hesitation by Peter Crook in the Town goal then allowed Hednesford’s James Hurst to prod across goal but Shiels covered well to sweep up the danger.
The following minute, Jake Speight rose well to flick Thewlis through the middle and his touch looked to have given Clayton the ideal opportunity to open his account at the CNG Stadium, only for goalkeeper Dan Crane to block his shot with his legs.
It took a moment of magic from Hednesford full-back James Hurst to open the day’s goalscoring. With the ball running free 30 yards from Town’s goal, the defender powered a rocket into the top corner, with Town keeper Peter Crook only able to get fingertips to it.
Speight could have brought Town an equaliser almost straight away but his shot on the turn trickled wide.
And he was made to pay with only three minutes of the opening period remaining when Hednesford grabbed a second. An inswinging cross was met by the head of Diggin, and despite the presence of three Town defenders around Crook, Bailey toed the ball in from two yards out.
Adam Nowakowski replaced the ineffectual Lloyd Kerry at half-time and added an energy and presence into Town’s midfield during the second period.
Clayton again went close from Meynell’s left-footed cross wide before Thewlis sparked life into Town’s attack with two powerful strikes in a minute - the first blocked on six yards before Crane tipped the second excellently over.
Weaver sacrificed Milligan to throw a fourth striker up front, with Louie Swain joining the fray.
However, the change left Town exposed in midfield and Hednesford’s Jamey Osbourne almost forced home from distance before Diggin’s crashing drive forced Crook into a strong save.
It took until the hour mark for Weaver to introduce top goalscorer James Walshaw – however the striker failed to make much of an impression during his 30 minutes run out.
Town did create a late flurry and Franks swung a shot narrowly wide from a corner.
Clayton looked to have halved the deficit inside the final ten minutes, after tucking home Swain’s deflected shot. But the Alfreton loanee’s celebrations were brought to a halt by the linesman’s flag
Franks headed onto the bar late on and Clayton also powered a header narrowly over. But Town’s forthright approach came too late and for much, lacked subtlety.
Hednesford climbed up to 11th with victroy and are now four points away from a play-off spot. However, the play-off dream for Harrogate looks almost over already, having dropped into the clutches of the league’s bottom sides.