A brilliant hat-trick of tries from James Preston could not stop Chester from going down to a harsh 28-19 defeat at title-challenging Sale on Saturday.
The Hare Lane outfit headed to Greater Manchester on the back of eight wins in their previous 10 National League 2 North matches in 2017.
And they looked set to continue their fantastic form when they raced into an early 12-0 lead.
But a damaging spell at the start of the second half ultimately condemned Chester to a loss that leaves them fifth in the standings and 31 points behind second-placed Sale.
However, for long periods of the clash there was very little difference between the sides, as had been in the case in November.
That was a match that Sale, who at the very least will take their place in the play-offs, won 17-5.
But they could not have made a worst start in the weekend’s reverse encounter with Freeman Payne setting up Preston with a lovely weighted pass to round off a flowing move and open the scoring five minutes in.
Ten minutes later and the winger repeated the trick with Sean Green this time providing the beautiful assist.
Callum Bennett kicked the conversion to put Chester in command.
But Sale, as they have proved throughout the campaign, are a very good team and they reduced the deficit in the 20th minute with a Jack Moorhouse try out wide that was converted by Liam McGovern.
That was the way it stayed until the 45th minute when McGovern converted a penalty try in front of the posts.
And five minutes later Sale extended their advantage to 21-12 when Tom Ailes bulldozed his way over the line from five metres and McGovern added the extras.
Chester tried to hit back with superb breaks from Preston and Green.
But it was Sale who struck next with McGovern slotting over a superbly struck conversion after Andrew Hughes finished off some decent phases down the right flank.
Chester, however, were not done yet and they got some reward when man-of-the-match Preston used his blistering pace out wide to score a try in the corner that was neatly converted by Bennett.
Chester will look to return to winning ways at home to Wharfedale this Saturday (3pm).
Chester 2nds lost 45-22 at home to Sedgley Park 2nds last Saturday.
Ryan Farrell-Green, Paul Sherlock and Leo Freschini shared the tries for Chester, two of which were converted by Peter Towers, who also added a penalty.
Chester 3rds went down 36-12 at Sefton 2nds.
Christleton were edged out 20-15 at Old Bedians.
But title-challenging Helsby won 43-10 at Liverpool St Helens 3rds.