Gisborne is the only undefeated team after five rounds of the Bendigo Football Netball League.
Gisborne's thrilling six-point win over Strathfieldsaye, combined with Golden Square's shock loss to Sandhurst at Wade Street, saw the Gardiner Reserve Bulldogs earn a one-game buffer at the top of the table.
A Matt Panuccio goal in the dying seconds lifted Gisborne to victory against a brave Strathfieldsaye side that had rallied from a three-goal deficit at the final break.
The quality of the contest at Tannery Lane showed BFNL fans are in for a cracking finals series, particularly considering both sides were missing key players.
"We're very pleased to win the game, but we won't get carried away about it,'' Gisborne coach Rob Waters said.
The race to be in the September action took a giant twist when an undermanned Sandhurst produced a performance that coach Ashley Connick described "one of the better wins I've been involved with anywhere".
The Dragons, who had only won one of their first four games, were without several flu-ridden senior players, but dug deep to defeat the previously undefeated Golden Square by 12 points in the Ron Best Memorial Shield game at Wade Street.
"The boys were falling like flies through the week,'' Connick said.
"A few of them played, a few of them didn't. I think we had 16 players across seniors and reserves that were unavailable (through illness or injury).
"It was a case of feel sorry for ourselves or have a crack and get one of those wins that you really treasure.
"It was an opportunity to stick together and see what happened and the players were incredible - every single one of them."
Elsewhere, South Bendigo and Eaglehawk consolidated their positions inside the top five with 114 and 122-point wins over Castlemaine and Maryborough respectively.
Kyneton scored its second win of the season on the back of a blistering nine-goal third quarter against Kangaroo Flat.
The Tigers turned a 14-point half-time lead into a 62-point lead at the final change and eventually won by 80 points.
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