EBBW Vale will need to record a big win on the road if they are to keep a firm grip on the Principality Premiership trophy after suffering a 20-13 defeat to Pontypridd in slippery conditions.
The Steelmen let a 10-0 lead that they had earned in a dominant opening slip through their grasp in the Eugene Cross Park mud.
They failed to take early chances and lost their way, leaving them with plenty to do in the race for the Tier One play-offs.
The champions have now suffered home losses to Bedwas and Ponty, costly reverses that means they must now make up ground on their travels to Llandovery and RGC 1404 before their final weekend home clash with Merthyr.
With 11 points from four games, Ebbw’s destiny is still in their own hands but now they must do it the hard way, something they managed in 2016.
They now have a lull until April courtesy of the frustratingly stop-start Premiership schedule and plenty of soul-searching to do after wasting an opportunity to move within touching distance of a top-four berth.
With the rain lashing down, the kick-off was knocked on by Ponty and Ebbw put the squeeze on from the resulting scrum to earn a penalty that fly-half Josh Lewis knocked between the sticks.
Three points were precious on such a grubby night but the advantage was soon 10 thanks to a stunning breakaway try from a Ponty kick through, full-back Dan Haymond and wing James Lewis combining to put their fly-half under the posts for an eighth-minute try he converted.
The visitors boasted a pair of experienced heads at half-back in former Dragons Wayne Evans and Ceri Sweeney but the latter was soon enjoying a 10-minute break for a reckless high and late tackle on his opposite number that was indicative of Ponty’s error-strewn start.
Ebbw were agonisingly close to try number two only for James Lewis to lose his footing over the line attempting to ground a grubber through.
The home scrum was completely dominant, as it had been when the sides met at Sardis Road in October, but Ponty were at least able to hold firm against the driving lineout with two Ebbw heaves falling short.
And the visitors had a settler on the half hour when a high ball was knocked on by wing Chris Levesley and then hacked on for Sweeney to help himself to a seven-pointer.
Dan Haymond, who had taken over kicking duties after Josh Lewis was forced off after the Sweeney incident, missed from the tee and Ebbw would have been wondering how they only had a three-point advantage.
However, they ended the half on the back foot after catching Ponty’s disease of making daft mistakes in their own territory and it was with some relief that they headed for the warmth of their changing room 10-7 up.
The visitors were on top from the resumption and were soon on the attack in the Ebbw 22 with their exploits earning a leveller from Sweeney that also saw Newport Gwent Dragons number eight Harri Keddie sin-binned for offside.
The Steelmen’s error count was rocketing and they were behind for the first time with half an hour remaining when Ponty stole a lineout and centre Dafydd Lockyer cantered through a porous midfield.
Sweeney’s conversion made it 17-10 and Ebbw, so dominant in the opening exchanges, needed to shift the momentum.
Penalties were traded by Haymond and Sweeney and it was 20-13 as the game entered the final quarter, with scrum-half Evans a growing influence for the visitors.
Ebbw couldn’t get a foothold in the game and were unable to work their way towards the cricket pitch in the sort of weather that would have umpires calling an early end to proceedings with the wicket under covers.
There was inevitability about the result and the Steelmen ended the game attempting to preserve their consolation bonus rather than pushing for a draw, something they managed to do by inches as Ponty hammered at the line.
Ebbw scorers: try – Josh Lewis; conversion – Josh Lewis; penalties – Josh Lewis, D Haymond
Pontypridd scorers: tries – C Sweeney, D Lockyer; conversions – C Sweeney (2); penalties – C Sweeney (2)