Harrogate Town boss Simon Weaver bemoaned his side’s “capitulation” as three second-half goals sent them spiralling to 3-2 defeat at FC United of Manchester.
Jack Vann gave the visitors a half-time lead but a brace from player-manager Tom Greaves and Craig Lindfield’s header handed the Red Rebels a seventh straight home win.
A woeful display in the second period was largely to blame for Weaver’s side conceding further ground at the top of National League North, with Salford City now ten points clear at the summit.
He said: “You can play all the football you want but if you’re open at the back, as we have been in recent weeks, you’re asking for problems.
“We capitulated defensively and got more and more ragged conceding goals at those times.
“You ask for that mental strength to be able to recover and we were found wanting.
“We have to be better if we want to continue this great start to the season.
“We don’t want to be too extreme when we’re flying high and winning or now, but the warning signs are there if we don’t get better defensively as a unit.”
Town started brightly as Josh Falkingham stung home keeper Lloyd Allinson’s palms with a long-ranger.
Former FCUM favourite George Thomson then forced a great save from the gloveman, diving high to his right to paw away the rising drive.
The visitors then took the lead on 26 minutes, Joe Leesley delivering a free-kick for the unmarked Vann to stoop and head into the bottom corner from close-range.
On the half-hour, United’s Scott Kay ghosted past Ben Parker and came close to levelling things up, but watched his effort cannon off the post and behind.
The Wetherby Road outfit had plenty of defending to do before the break, a combination of Vann and Terry Kennedy stretching to deny the dangerous Craig Lindfield.
A corner proved their undoing four minutes after the interval, however, Tom Walker’s delivery seeming to deflect off both Mark Beck and Lindfield before finding the left corner of the net.
Town’s James Belshaw had to pull out a couple of fine saves, springing up to his left to take a Greaves shot out of the top right and getting down low to deny Kieran Glynn.
The introduction of Simon Ainge midway through the second half for his first appearance since August buoyed the travelling Town contingent, but the decision to play him alongside Beck was somewhat mystifying.
This approach nearly paid off, but substitute Ellis Hudson couldn’t adjust to turn in an adept Ainge knockdown.
FCUM then took the lead on 83 minutes when Greaves glanced in at the near post, a simple goal from a right-wing corner bundled in from point blank range.
The three points were sealed as Greaves tapped home from Connor McCarthy’s cutback, the player-manager’s 100th goal for the club that saw him become its highest-ever scorer.
Ainge did notch his 32nd goal of 2017 from the penalty spot deep into injury-time after Falkingham was felled in the area, but the goal proved too little too late to alter the outcome of the match.
Boss Weaver was pleased with the returning striker’s showing, adding: “Simon has probably come back a few weeks earlier than we all thought, but when he backs himself he’s too big a player not to be involved.
“He threw a few bodies around the park, got hold of it and was horrible.
“He finished the penalty really well and I thought he was a real handful. It’s a positive.”