Formartine United suffered a blow to their title hopes when they lost 3-1 to reigning champions Cove Rangers at Allan Park on Saturday.
They slipped from top spot on goal difference after Brora Rangers, who have two games in hand, beat Huntly 4-2.
The Pitmedden side, who still face a trip to Dudgeon Park, now have to rely on others to beat Brora if they are to lift the championship.
An additional, more immediate worry, is that a common effect of being knocked off top spot is to encourage future opponents in the belief that they are there for the taking.
At Cove they did try but only looked like they were in serious contention for around half an hour before half time. They started nervously, recovered for some time and then faded.
At 1-0 down Unitedlooked like they could come back but after they went 2-1 behindit looked like there could only be one winner.
Cove started on the front foot and had Formartine rattled from the opening whistle. As early as the third minute the home side got in front.
A break down the right by Bain set up Lennox who played a one two with Johnston who took the ball at the edge of the box and timed its release to return it back out wide to the overlapping Lennox who turned left, worked a yard or two along the bye line before drifting far enough in to drill the ball past Shearer and into the far corner of the net.
To their credit, Formartine seemed unphased by this and set about battling their way back into the game. Munro made a number of powerful surges down the right and became a bit of a thorn in the flesh of Lawrie.
Cammy Keith was having a lean time of it as Watson and Yeats were adept in keeping the ball away from him. Ewen was in and out of it making darting runs that Smith struggled to contain at times. In the 20th minute Formartine won a free kick which Hamill floated deep into the box where Webster did just enough to smuggle the ball away as Ewen was about to pounce.
The clearance went only as far as centre back Campbell who hammered it home.Cove put Formartine under pressure early in the second half and had a couple of close chances.
They did go ahead in the 62nd minute when Yule’s free kick found Watson who outjumped Shearer and his header looped over the line.
And Cove wrapped up the points in the 73rd minute when substitute Connor Scully beat Shearer with a low drive.
Cove Rangers: Reid, Webster, Lawrie, Smith, Yeats, Watson, Yule, Bain, Johnston, Lennox, Stott. Substitutes: Scully, Leyden, Harkness, Stephen, Thomson.
Formartine United: Shearer, Jeffrey, Smith, McKeown, Campbell, Clark, Munro, Napier, Keith, Ewen, Hamill. Substitutes: Bagshaw, McVitie, Park, Donelly, Doak