Loxwood manager Dave Cocoracchio admitted his injury-and-suspension hit side looked tired in their controversial 2-1 defeat at Lancing on Monday.
The Magpies remain fifth in the table as they suffered just their fifth league defeat against an in-form Lancers.
Cocoracchio was left seething at a decision not to send Lancers’ goalkeeper Callum Fidler off when he gave away a penalty as the last man, from where Mark Cave brought the scores back to 2-1 with 20 minutes left.
He said: “Lancing have given lots of teams really hard games so thought it would be a pivotal game.
“We knew we would have to play well and to be fair it was probably our most lacklustre performance of the season.
“With a small squad we are struggling with injuries and suspensions. We have played a lot of games with our cup runs and it has all caught up with us.
I did not think after all the decision we have spoken about this year, there was anything left to surprise me.Dave Cocoracchio
“They were up for it and had a spring in their step which was helped by some bad defending by us.
“It looked like a typical Bank Holiday fixture and was all a bit early for us.”
Alex Fair ran on to a lofted pass past two Loxwood defender and slotted under Sam Smith from close range six minutes in.
The hosts doubled their lead five minutes into the second half as Mike Williamson’s cross struck Loxwood’s Ollie Gill, who inadvertently diverted the ball inside the post.
The visitors were presented a lifeline in controversial fashion with 20 minutes to play. Sam Beard beat Fidler to the ball and was felled as he ran through and, having correctly given a spot-kick, referee Daid Barnard only booked Callum Fidler, which was as a result of consulting linesman Ciaran Fidler, according to Cocoracchio.
Despite Cave scoring from the spot, Lancing sealed the win as Owen Callaghan prodded home eight minutes from the end.
Cocoracchio said after the game he was told the linesman was a brother of a Lancing player and the club would be seeking clarification from the Sussex FA and SCFL.
He added: “I do not know how it can be allowed to happen at this level of football. I did not think after all the decision we have spoken about this year, there was anything left to surprise me.”
Lancers’ assistant manager Ash Bailey added: “Callum was fortunate not to be sent off when he should have been, really, but we deserved to win.”
A SCFL official said: “We are now aware of a relationship between the lineman and a player, but in the interest of the integrity of the match official, we believe no decision made would reflect their relationship.
“Any official complaint regarding to match officials to the SCFL will always be dealt with in the appropriate manner.”
The Sussex FA declined to comment when contacted by the West Sussex County Times.