Hitman Gary Lockyer helped Ashford all but secure a second-placed finish as they beat Ramsgate 4-2 on Easter Saturday.
Two-goal Lockyer and Tommie Fagg struck in the first half of the Isthmian South East contest for Tommy Warrilow’s men, with Ben Fitchett netting for the Rams prior to half-time in reply, before Mamadou Diallo converted after the restart.
Late on, substitute Karn Miller-Neave did get a late second consolation for the out-of-form Rams in the Kent derby, although it was to no avail really.
It was a must-win match for the sixth-placed visitors in their play-off bid, with Herne Bay having won the previous day at Sittingbourne to leave the Rams five points behind them, but the second-placed Nuts & Bolt drew first blood at Homelands in front of a 560-strong crowd.
Fagg was unmarked from a sixth-minute corner and he headed past away goalkeeper Jacob Russell for his 11th goal of the season.
But eight minutes later, Steve Lovell’s Rams, who were on a five-game losing run prior to the encounter, levelled. An Ashley Miller corner was expertly flicked beyond keeper Jordan Carey by Fitchett with their first clear-cut opportunity.
Josh Ajayi drove at the Nuts & Bolts' back-line in the 15th minute, his cross-cum-shot just evading frontman Miller.
Ramsgate’s tails were now up and Carey had to be alert to beat away top scorer Ajayi’s effort.
Midway through the first period, Ramsgate’s William Hoare became the first player in the book for a foul on Fagg. That free-kick eventually fell to top scorer Lockyer but he stabbed narrowly wide.
But in the 25th minute, Ashford won a penalty when referee Nick Dunn adjudged Lockyer had been fouled by Jerald Aboagye. Lockyer’s spot-kick bounced off the post before it went in as his side re-took the lead.
A brilliant run from Adem Ramaden through the midfield presented Lockyer with another fine chance for Ashford, however he failed to hit the target from a great area.
Three minutes before half-time, right-back Jack Steventon drove forward for the hosts and cut back for Fagg, only for Fagg to blast over when he should have done better.
In stoppage time, a Ramsgate free-kick fell kindly for Jamie Coyle but he volleyed wide - and he was made to pay for that miss at the other end soon after.
Despite appearing offside, Lockyer added his second and his team’s third on the stroke of the break. A fine ball by left-back Diallo was volleyed in by Lockyer at the back post for the Nuts & Bolts who headed into the break with a two-goal advantage.
Lockyer now has 17 goals in an Ashford shirt this season and 37 for the campaign overall having left Southern Counties East Premier Division Kennington in November.
Three minutes after the restart, the home team effectively ended the contest when Diallo’s long-range shot somehow snuck past Russell and found the bottom corner for only his second goal this season and his team's fourth of the afternoon.
Ramsgate made a double change in the 55th minute, which saw Callum Peck and Miller-Neave replace Denzell Olopade and Hoare.
Carey had to be alive 10 minutes later. Miller got to the near post to glance Aboagye’s corner towards goal but he couldn’t find the net.
Substitute Luke Burdon’s over-hit right-wing cross almost caught Russell out but landed inches wide.
There was to be no hat-trick for Lockyer. With 16 minutes left, he was replaced by experienced targetman Jay May who made his first appearance since recovering from injury.
Two Nuts & Bolts substitutes combined in the 80th minute when May guided Jarred Trespaderne’s ball just wide.
Five minutes from time, Ramsgate substitute Peck should have scored when he fired over from close range before Peck again went close moments later.
In the dying seconds, substitute Miller-Neave got another back for Ramsgate, however it proved to be too little, too late.
A late brawl broke out but no action - surprisingly - was taken by the officials other than to warn a player apiece on each side.
Ashford had made three changes as Fagg, Tashi-Jay Kwayie and Lockyer came in for Jack Richards, Burdon and Trespaderne, Richards out of the squad entirely.
Rams boss Lovell made a single change from the side beaten by Haywards Heath the previous weekend, with Hoare in for Ollie Bate in midfield.
The result leaves sixth-placed Ramsgate five points behind Bay, in fifth, with six points to play for this season.
Second-placed Ashford are now six points ahead of Haywards Heath, who are third after they were held to a goalless draw at home to Corinthian.
Ashford - now unbeaten in five in the league - only need one more point from their final two matches to be absolutely certain of finishing second. That will mean they will have home advantage in the play-offs.
On Easter Monday, Ashford are at Faversham and Ramsgate play host to bottom side Whitstable.
Ashford United: Carey, Diallo (Trespaderne 61mins), Friend, Kamara, Steventon, Wisson, Kwayie (Burdon 65mins), Fagg, Collin, Ramadan, Lockyer (May 74mins). Subs not used: Niemczycki, Hull.
Ramsgate: Russell, Aboagye, Prescott, Olopade (Miller-Neave 55mins), Miller, Hoare (Peck 55mins), Ajayi, Coyle, Fitchett, McIntyre, Jadama. Subs not used: Emptage, Bate, Carrington.
Referee: Nick Dunn.