Ten-man Rye United were edged out 2-1 away to second-placed Hassocks on Saturday.
Rye battled hard but ultimately suffered a second successive Sussex County Football League Division One defeat after playing most of the match with a numerical disadvantage.
Hassocks took a 34th minute lead through a great free kick by Phil Gault only for Rye to reply two minutes later via a terrific set-piece of their own by Liam Upton.
The hosts grabbed what turned out to be the winner in the 43rd minute when Gault converted a penalty after Rye defender Ryan Alexander was sent-off. Despite being a man down, Rye came close to salvaging a point as Evan Archibald hit the post in the fourth minute of added time.
The result leaves Rye just below halfway with 15 points from their opening 12 league games. They are due to be back in action on Wednesday night with a visit from 16th-placed Shoreham.
Standings (played-points): 1 East Preston 12-34, 2 Hassocks 12-27, 3 Littlehampton Town 12-25, 4 Horsham YMCA 12-21, 5 Lingfield 13-21, 6 Crowborough Athletic 12-20, 7 Selsey 12-20, 8 Dorking Wanderers 12-19, 9 East Grinstead Town 12-19, 10 Newhaven 12-18, 11 RYE UNITED 12-15, 12 St Francis Rangers 12-15, 13 Chichester City 12-15, 14 Pagham 12-12, 15 Arundel 11-12, 16 Shoreham 10-11, 17 Ringmer 11-9, 18 Lancing 11-8, 19 Hailsham Town 11-4, 20 Worthing United 11-3.