NATIONAL LEAGUE ONE: Esher 21 Pertemps Bees 17
While Pertemps Bees' tendency to lose matches in the last 20 minutes has been a recurring theme this season, their failure to win this one in the final quarter at a windswept Pillar Data Arena could well cost them more dearly than any of the other 22 defeats.
They went into this game high on a cocktail of euphoria and relief following their surprising, but deserved, victory at Rotherham Titans seven days previously and demonstrated their rejuvenation by dominating Esher in virtually every aspect.
A route out of the relegation zone looked to be theirs for the taking. But the brainless errors and absence of a goal-kicker that has left them fighting to save their National One skins blighted Russell Earnshaw's men once again.
Sedgley Park's bonus-point reverse to Plymouth Albion means Bees are in exactly the same position they were at the start of the day - minus the momentum. Having battled bravely against gale-force conditions in the first half, they turned round trailing 21-12 and proceeded to spend the entire second period in enemy territory.
They forced their hosts into eight penalties, two in kicking positions and another so close to the posts that the wind might have blown the ball over, while they were utterly dominant at set-pieces.
That supremacy produced an enterprising 44th-minute try for Cameron Mitchell as Bees closed to within four points and then set up house and home in the Esher 22.
But with stand-in fly half Paul Knight unable to master difficult placekicking conditions, the visitors had no option but to punt to the corner when three points would have narrowed the deficit to just one.
"Paul can kick goals," maintained Reece Spee, whose performance - both good and bad - made him the afternoon's central character. "But I think we just thought we were going to score a try from a maul."
The full back's confidence did not seem misplaced: "At no point in that second half did I think we would lose. We had so many opportunities that we were always going to take one of them."
The best fell to the New Zealander with seven minutes remaining. Knight's chip over the blitz defence was deflected so that it sat up for Spee to take in his stride with just ten metres to cover.
It was the sort of chance Spee does not normally spurn but, in this most difficult of campaigns, anything - and nothing - is possible.
"I thought it was going to pop up for me but then it died and rolled on again. By the time I got close enough to take it, I was being tackled. It's the story of my season - I've had no luck."
That may be true but, in the callous world of professional sport, teams have to make their own luck and the dearth of quality alternatives on the replacements bench and lack of a competent goal-kicker are no-one else's fault other than the people who put this squad together.
While Esher were able to bring on three useful substitutes, Bees utilised just one - and even that was enforced by an injury to Marika Vakacegu for whom Mitchell came on at half time.
Nevertheless, the 15 on the pitch should have been good enough to beat a limited Esher side whose main source of points was their guests' mistakes.
Johnny Redelinghuys coughed up the ball on half way in the third minute and, the next time Bees saw it, Bevon Armitage had placed it near their sticks for a score, which Neil Hallett converted.
To their credit, the visitors responded accordingly. Scott Young burst into the line six minutes later and raced clear whereupon Spee appeared on his shoulder and covered the remaining 30 metres to the line. Significantly, it was to be the only conversion Knight landed.
Midway through the period, the old James Aston sprang into life. Slowed by a succession of injuries and sapped by ebbing confidence, the burly winger has struggled for the last couple of seasons but when he handed off Matt Moore in his own half, there were signs of his former finishing prowess.
The former Moseley man stretched away until, crossing the 22, it dawned on him he could go the distance. Bees led 12-7.
That was the good, now came the bad. Aston stupidly knocked a clearance behind his own line and then touched down to gift the Surrey side a five-metre scrum. Moore and Lee Starling interested enough defenders for Dave Slemen to free Hallett in the corner. The full back was on target with the extras for 14-12.
That was how the half should have ended and would have done but for Spee's decision to run the ball into touch rather than try to kick - against the wind, it should be said, under pressure.
That gave Esher a lineout and catch-and-drive territory and Duncan Cormack was smuggled over. Once more, Hallett improved.
Most observers estimated the wind to be worth at least ten points so, when Mitchell capitalised on a break by Nicky Griffiths, four seemed a mere bagatelle. It would have been, too, had Bees remembered to bring a kicker.
ESHER: Hallett; Moore, Armitage, Clouston, Flockhart; Slemen, Lane (Barr 66); Cormack, Campbell, Warren (Pearson 66), Butterworth, Barker, Soden, Starling (Tubasei 79), Blakeburn. Replacements: Harris, Millard, Goldsmith, Baum-berg.
PERTEMPS BEES: Spee; Aston, Young, Knight D, Vakacegu (Mitchell 40); Knight P, Griffiths; Redelinghuys, Pearl, Bucknall, Davidson, McComb, Matthews, Daish, Earn-shaw. Replacements: Porter, Bick, Kazombiaze, Maggs, Grove, Preece.
Referee: Ashley Rowden (RFU)