Alfreton Town put up a strong fight at Altrincham on Tuesday night but ultimately fell to defeat thanks to a goal five minutes from time.
Alfreton may have lost the game but there is an air of optimism around the club at the moment having vastly improved upon last season's 3-1 away and 7-0 home drubbings by the wily Robins.
The Reds forged equalisers twice, but could not muster a third after John Johnson had finally settled the issue with a goal that looked suspiciously offside on 85 minutes.
Connor Hampson had given the hosts a 23rd minute lead with a deflected volley that wrong-footed keeper Jack Atkinson, but the Reds were level by the 34th minute with Danny Clarke scoring a rare goal from close range after Josh Clackstone had determinedly kept Josh Wilde's deep cross in play.
James Jones regained Alty's lead on 40 minutes following a free-kick on the left, but controversy then reigned as Clarke was clearly fouled inside the area, only for a free-kick to be awarded that Bobby Johnson crashed against the upright, with a home defender then handling the ball to no avail.
However, just two minutes into the second-half parity had been restored when Danny East stabbed home the ball at the second attempt from another accurate Clackstone delivery.
But Johnston's winner would eventually send Alfreton home pointless.
Reds boss Billy Heath said: "I sound a bit like a broken record - we deserved something from the game. We may not have deserved to win it but we definitely deserved a point/
"The players again just gave everything on the pitch but when you come away to Altrincham and score two goals you should really get something out of the game.
"I'm disappointed with two of the goals that could have been avoidable. The third one, where the boy gets set free from the free-kick, which destroys our shape, l'd like to see that again because it looked well offside.
"We have to take it on the chin, but the players again have been magnificent. We're disappointed at the minute, but we have to pick ourselves up and start again.
"Altrincham in my opinion are a better team than last season, so there is improvement. Last season's team would have been comfortably beaten tonight - there are fine margins at the minute, but hopefully one game where there are fine margins the pendulum might swing in our favour."
Asked about the controversy just before half-time, Heath added: "You've got to be careful what you say, but at the end of the day Danny Clarke looked to be fouled inside the box and the players have all said that in the second phase when we do have a shot on goal it's a definite hand-ball. The lad had his arms away from him. We just don't get the big decisions."