Preston North End's play-off hopes were left hanging by the most delicate of threads after defeat to Leeds United at Deepdale.
This was a third loss on the bounce for the Lilywhites and to compound matters they had Ben Pearson sent-off, leaving them to play with 10 men for almost all the second half.
Leeds, who had looked the most likely side to score in a goalless first half, took full advantage of having the extra man.
Patrick Bamford fired them in front just after the hour with a fine finish from 25 yards.
Bamford then had the more simple task of doubling the lead 13 minutes from time with a header into the roof of the net from a Mateusz Klich cross.
Defeat left North End six points outside the top six with only five matches to play and it would take some rediscovery of form to claw back the deficit.
They will have to do without Pearson for three games, his one-match ban for this red card having two more added to it by reason of this being his third red card of the season.
Daniel Johnson's return to the midfield in place of Ryan Ledson had been the one change made by Alex Neil to North End's starting line-up.
Ledson dropped down the bench, with Paul Gallagher not involved in the matchday squad.
A chance inside the opening 10 seconds for Leeds set the pace for a high octane first half, Tyler Roberts' shot from the left hand side of the box saved at the near post by Declan Rudd.
PNE's best chance of the first half came in the 13th minute as Sean Maguire's cross from the left was flicked on by Alan Browne.
The ball fell to Lukas Nmecha beyond the far post who turned and fired a shot into the side-netting.
Sixty seconds later, Pearson collected his 14th yellow card of the season for a foul Jack Harrison.
The fact that a number of Leeds fouls were to go unpunished with cards as the half went on proved a big frustration to the home supporters.
Much of the play was towards the Alan Kelly Town End as Leeds moved the ball quickly and put North End on the back foot.
Bamford lifted a first-time shot over the bar from Klich's pull back, with Pablo Hernandez putting an effort too high.
The visitors came close through Klich, his low angled shot across the box passing inches wide of the far post.
Less than four minutes of the second half had been played when North End went down to 10 men.
Leeds cleared their lines from a PNE free-kick and a long clearance from the back sent Bamford clear of the Preston back line.
As Pearson got back to cover there was coming together between him and Bamford, the Leeds man falling to the floor.
Referee Rob Jones pulled out a straight red card, deeming Pearson had denied a goalscoring opportunity.
North End responded soon after, replacing Callum Robinson with Louis Moult.
Rudd saved well to parry a shot from Bamford before Leeds broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute.
The ball ricocheted into Bamford's path after Alan Browne and Hernandez had competed for a tackle, Bamford taking the ball forward a couple of paces before bending a fine left-foot finish into the far corner from 25 yards.
Luke Ayling almost doubled the advantage with a low shot which hit the foot of the near post and bounced behind.
Their second goal which killed the game as a contest came in the 76th minute, Klich drifting inside from the right-wing and chipping over a cross which Bamford headed over Rudd into the roof of the net.
After that there were precious few opportunities for the 10 men to get back into the game.
In the 90th minute, Bamford got clear on goal and looked destined to score his hat-trick until Ben Davies got back with a fine challenge.
A brief rally at the end of stoppage-time saw substitute Jayden Stockley's shot deflect off a Leeds boot for a corner.
PNE: Rudd, Fisher, Storey, Davies, Earl, Pearson, Nmecha (Stockley 87), Browne, Johnson, Robinson (Moult 58), Maguire (Ledson 70). Subs (not used): Rafferty, Ginnelly, Huntington, Crowe.
Leeds: Casilla, Ayling, Cooper, Jansson, Alioski, Phillips, Hernandez, Harrison (Berardi 76), Klich, Roberts (Forshaw 82), Bamford (Roofe 90). Subs (not used): Dallas, Shackleton, Stevens, Peacock-Farrell.
Referee: Robert Jones (Merseyside)
Attendance: 18,019 (5,516 away)