TIVERTON Town's play-off aspirations continue to fade after an 88th-minute goal saw Cirencester Town condemn the Yellows to a fourth defeat in six games.
After just shading the first 70 minutes of a frustrating encounter at a freezing Ladysmead, Tivvy fell behind when Sam Collier rounded Chris Wright.
Joe Bushin capitalised on a calamitous error from keeper Glyn Garner to level six minutes from time but, with the hosts chasing three points, Sam Packer shrugged off suggestions of handball to slide home a winner after a swift counter-attack to ensure Tivvy's winless run was extended to 13 games in all competitions.
Disconsolate manager Mark Saunders admitted his bafflement at his side's poor form, which has seen them slip from top of the table to eighth.
"I certainly can't work us out at the moment because we seem to be all over the shop," he said.
"I thought we were poor again. All over the pitch we did not win enough headers, tackles, second balls. When the ball goes up the pitch it comes back too quickly and we need to be retaining possession higher up the field.
"We are not getting quality possession up to our strikers often enough, although when we did do that it just bounced off them."
Despite their poor recent run, the Yellows' battling 2-2 comeback draw away to Shortwood United the previous Tuesday had given a spark of hope that an elusive win was not far away.
Michael Nardiello started up front, but it was midfielder Russell Jee who almost broke the deadlock early on when his quickfire effort drifted wide.
Paul Kendall's departure for Truro City saw Adam Faux continue in central defence alongside the imperious Tom Gardner, but Tivvy were indebted to Wright when a long ball forward evaded Faux and Josh Concanen.
Striker Collier rounded the keeper, only to be foiled by the Wright's last-gasp dive. Then Josh Searle fired over from the edge of the box when he really should have done better.
Tivvy began the second half the brighter, with Gardner heading down for Nardiello, whose shot at a tight angle was saved by Garner.
The striker was proving a handful for the visitors' defence, and his excellent turn and run was unlucky to end in a cross that was comfortable for the keeper.
Wright then produced an outstanding point-blank save before Gardner's routine header put Nardiello through, but his shot drifted agonisingly wide.
Cirencester opened the scoring when Collier again rounded Wright and shot past Gardner on the line, before Packer somehow screwed his shot wide from four yards out just minutes later.
Bushin pulled Tivvy level when, in his haste to start a counterattack, Garner dropped the ball at the striker's feet, with disastrous consequences.
But with Tivvy hunting a winner, Faux was turned far too easily while appealing in vain for handball, leaving Packer the simple task of converting the cross to snatch the points.
"When luck is not going your way it really goes against you because the lad has handled it – he has pulled it down with his hands and they have gone on to score from that and the referee has cost us," said Saunders.
"But lo and behold the referee didn't see what I saw as a simple handball. He brought it down with both hands, practically caught the ball, crossed it and they scored."
Admission prices for tonight's (Tuesday's) Devon Bowl match against Exeter City have been reduced to £5 for adults, £3 for concessions and £1 for children