They had a glorious chance to inflict a rare defeat on Championship leaders Bristol and keep in touch with second-placed Doncaster Knights only to be badly undone by their own ill-discipline.
Former Wales fly-half Gavin Henson slotted five penalties to gradually nudge Bristol 15-7 ahead but it was only when Carnegie hooker Phil Nilsen was sin-binned for a senseless late tackle in the 70th minute, that the big-spending visitors truly looked like scoring a try.
They did so from that penalty, kicking to the corner for Jack Lam – the Samoan flanker who turned down European giants Toulouse to extend his stay at Bristol – to muscle over.
Henson added his sixth penalty in injury-time to leave a rather glossy scoreline for his side especially as Carnegie had created the better clear-cut chances.
It is their eighth league defeat but the first to come by more than six points and they were competitive again.
Indeed, such was the home side’s initial control of the first half that Bristol did not even venture into their 22 with possession until the 28th minute.
However, as long as the hosts conceded penalties in striking distance, Henson kept gathering points.
The Welshman had done so when Carnegie were pulled up for failing to release in the 23rd minute – that offence happened at least three times in the first period – and he slotted another soon after.
Henson’s third, coming after a needless infringement from Nilsen, saw Bristol take a 9-7 lead three minutes before break and the British Lion even attempted another from seven metres inside his own but that fell wide.
That said, Carnegie should have had a second try when Kevin Sinfield’s lovely inside ball set Jonah Holmes free.
The full-back was eventually hauled in and saw possession ripped – falling straight into the hands of David Doherty, the winger who duly scooted over.
However, referee Darren Gamage somehow decreed Holmes had fumbled and disallowed the 33rd minute effort.
Carnegie were authoritative and purposeful early on, giving Bristol no time to settle, and they were fully deserving of the game’s first score.
Although the visitors had successfully defended their first driving line-out, they were exposed when the hosts shifted the ball wide to the left. Tom Varndell had little option other than to delibrate knock on Adny Forsyth’s pass as the centre tried to unleash two unmarked colleagues outside him.
Former England winger Varndell was rightly yellow carded and Bryan Redpath’s men reaped immediate dividends.
Bristol infringed at the line-out and scrum-half Chris Pilgrim showed real speed of thought to take a qucik tap and send Richard Beck – impressive at blindside flanker – barging over from close range.
Sinfield converted but they could not build on that and Henson slowy made them pay.
There was plenty of spirit from Carnegie, illustrated when Seb Stegmann did brilliantly to track back and deny Jack Wallace after a rare Bristol break, and Harry Leonard was a class act at inside centre.
Sinfield made a half-break, too, that should have furnished a score just after the hour but Chris Jones spilled at the vital moment and they were similarly frustrated at the death when Chris Walker broke but Pilgrim’s final pass to Forsyth, when being tackled on the line, went marginally forward.
They have dropped to fourth now, just behind Bedford Blues on points difference, and if positions stay the same over the last five remaining league games, they would face Bristol again in the play-off semi-finals.
Learn some lessons from this experience and they would still fancy their chances of success.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Holmes; Stegmann, Forsyth, Leonard (Casson 78), Doherty (Graham 74); Sinfield (Hodgson 72), Pilgrim; Beech (Boyce 63), Nilsen, Tideswell (O’Donnell 51) , Schofield (Ryder 51), Jones, Beck, Saull (C Walker 64), Burrows.
Bristol Rugby: Morgan; Varndell, Tovery (Wallace 54, Mosses, Lemi (Amesbury 76) ; Henson, Roberts (Cliff 78); O’Connell (Ford-Robinson 78), McMillan (Jones 46), Ford-Robinson (Perensie 51) , Evans (Sorenson 53), Joyce (Phillips 76) , Lam, Robinson (Phillips 57 BB Robinson 63), Eadie.
Referee: Darren Gamage.
Harrogate came from 10-0 down to beat South Leicester 42-22 in a National Two (North) game which was more competitive than the scoreline would suggest.
Despite losing those early points, Harrogate soon took control of the game when Willem Enslin crashed over after 30 minutes.
His side went on to score twice more before the break through Danny Matthews and Connor Ward.
Lewis Minikin converted all three tries to make it 21-10 at the turnaround.
Although Leicester still threatened in patches and went on to score twice in the second half, another three tries scored by Charley Purkis-McEndoo, Sam Bottomley and Jake Bradyput the game to bed for the home side.
In North One East, host Morley were 42-27 winners over Guisborough at their Scatcherd Lane HQ.
West Leeds marched on, meanwhile, in the RFU National Senior Vase with an impressive 115-0 win over Whitley Bay Rockcliff.
Leading 63-0 at the break, their backs were simply too fast for their opposition and winger Mark Calderwood was particularly impressive, scoring five of their 15 tries.
They will now play at Littleborough in the Northern Final of the Senior Vase, with the winner going forward to the national semi final.
The final will be played at Twickenham.
Ilkley ran in four tries on their way to a bonus point win at Huddersfield YMCA, emerging 15-37 victors from the National Three (North) clash.
Left wing John Johnson, prop Dan Lawrence, right winger Declan Jackson and centre Elliot Morgan scored tries for the visitors, while scrum-half Joe Rowntree added all four conversions and a penalty.
And there were drop goals from stand-off Ed Brown and centre Josh Kimber too.