Grays found themselves the victims of the annual relegation drama, at the Marston's Arena on Saturday.
They proved themselves the better side, played the better football and created the better chances but still ended handing Vics the one opportunity they had to haul themselves out of the bottom four.
The Athletic defence had handled seemingly the best pressure Northwich could mount until the first minute of injury time when Lee Steele sent in a cross from one side of the box to the other.
Adam Gross won the centre easily enough but put little power to his clearance and the ball dropped to the edge of the area and the inrushing Mike Carr crashed home a shot that did not give substitute goalkeeper Jake Whincup an earthly.
Whincup had replaced Nicky Eyre in 17 minutes when the 'keeper fell awkwardly on his right ankle and had to be stretchered off. He looked nervous at times but was generally well protected.
advertisementWith Simon Downer faultless at the back and Aaron O'Connor the pick of the midfielders, Grays were much the sharper outfit in the first half.
They should have been in front by the break, but Jeff Goulding wasted three good chances.
He made a poor connection to Stuart Thurgood's pass in the first minute and then, in the 23rd minute, came in at the end of a smart move involving O'Connor and James Taylor but his rising shot cleared the bar.
Four minutes later he fluffed his best chance, Ben Cogen's lofted through ball sending him goalward behind the Vics' defence.
Winchup only had a header from Steele to field before the break and just after escaped when he dropped the ball at Dave Brown's feet, but was awarded a free kick for the striker's challenge.
Danny Kedwell had the ball in the Northwich net in 66 minutes but was ruled offside, though little was seen of the Grays attack for a while as sheer anxiety drove Vics forward.
But in the last 10 minutes Grays assumed control again and looked the likelier to settle what was a poor game. In the 87th minute, Cogen played a pass into the danger area and goalkeeper Scott Tynan just managed to reach Kedwell's attempted lob.
In the last minute of normal time Scott Taylor exchanged passes with Kedwell and went for a narrow angle shot rather than playing a return ball and won only a corner off Tynan.
Still, at least they were safe. Or so everyone thought.
Thanks to the Thurrock Gazette for the match report