When the referee blew the final whistle on Boro’s 1-1 draw at Warrington Town on Tuesday night, he also all-but extinguished their hopes.
Boro battled willingly for 90 minutes, but they failed to hang onto the lead and the three points that they so desperately craved.
That may just-about be the end of Athletic’s campaign with two games remaining, but there are still plenty of positives to take.
Joint-bosses Bryan Hughes and Paul Foot have hauled a side that looked destined for a nothing season, to one that pushed all the way.
They also brought in a number of quality players, including Tom Corner, who returned to the line-up at Warrington.
That tactic worked a treat in the early stages, as the link-up play between Alex Metcalfe in the middle of the midfield and Dan Clayton on the left gave Warrington plenty to think about.
It was Metcalfe, with just five minutes played, who wriggled free for Boro’s first chance, but his sweet half-volley sailed just over the home bar.
The pace of Warrington was a threat as well, especially the dancing feet of striker Steve Tames, who showed Ben Middleton a clean pair of heels, fortunately the Boro defender made up the ground just as the trigger was about to be pulled.
Boro were the main protagonists though, and Clayton was the star of the show.
After Gary Bradshaw had a clever back-heel saved by Warrington stopper Karl Wills, the custodian was given no chance minutes later when Metcalfe fed Clayton and the winger finished neatly off the post.
Warrington shifted through the gears in the moments that followed, going in search of an immediate leveller.
Tames jigged through the right side of Boro’s defence, but Cracknell got two strong palms on his shot. Then Nathan Burke let go with a cracking drive, but it struck the angle of post and bar.
The Boro keeper had to be at his best seconds later when Tames arrowed a strike towards the top corner of his goal, Cracknell, at full stretch, tipped it away.
After a lively first 45 minutes, the game settled to a pedestrian pace after the break.
Things soon quickened up just before the hour though, with a quick-fire chance at either end.
Firstly, Matty Plummer failed to deal with a corner and the ball dropped to Scott Metcalfe just eight yards from goal. His shot was met by a tremendous save from Cracknell, who somehow managed to get his body in the way.
Then, seconds later, Bradshaw cut in from the right, and with acres of space in front of him, he elected to shoot and dragged his low effort wide of the target.
Boro looked to be heading towards the points, but they were stung with 15 minutes remaining.
Anthony Hickey, who had only just arrived on the pitch, won a foot-race with Middleton and crashed a drive in off the bar.
This took the wind of Boro’s sails, as they just created half-chances in the remaining minutes of the game.
There was plenty of endeavor, but the quality required to rescue the season was lacking, as the game petered out to a draw.