Chester RUFC came up just short at leaders Hull Ionians but are still on track to end the season in third place, according to director of rugby Dave Craven.
Ionians ran out 29-14 winners at Brantingham Park although they needed a penalty try with 10 minutes left on the clock to put the game to bed.
Craven said: “The better side won. We gave it a good shot but couldn’t capitalise on good field position.
“Ionians first try came against the run of play but they showed they were good enough to score from anywhere on the pitch.
“The loss of our tight-head prop James Whitelock-Wainwright to injury was a big blow and after that it was downhill all the way.
“We are still hoping to finish third and should achieve it with five games remaining and a decent run in.”
Chester had begun well in Hull but found themselves behind in the fifth minute when a loose pass resulted in Michael Bateman going over for the hosts.
However, it didn’t take long for a response to arrive as Guy Ford’s offload found the in-form Craig Ross and he did the rest. Rhys Hayes’ conversion drew the visitors level at 7-7.
Isaac Green nudged Ionians back into the lead with a penalty and two tries from Steve Slingsby in the final 13 minutes of the first-half left Chester trailing 22-7 at the break.
Craven’s team dragged themselves back into the contest on 48 minutes, Matt Walsh touching down and Hayes converting to bring them within eight points.
Chester sniffed a comeback but an injury to Whitelock-Wainwright proved pivotal, weakening the scrum and eventually leading to a penalty try with nine minutes to go to seal the win.
As a result of the defeat, rivals Caldy leapfrogged the Hare Lane outfit in the National League Two North table.
Chester go to 12th-placed Leicester Lions, who have lost three in a row, on Saturday (2pm).