Andy Peaks admitted he was “devastated” for his AFC Rushden & Diamonds players after they suffered late heartbreak in the 2-1 derby defeat at Kettering Town.
Diamonds were the better side for the opening hour or so at Latimer Park and took a deserved lead in the second half thanks to Nathan Hicks’ fine strike.
But the Poppies stormed back with Lindon Meikle levelling things up before Rhys Hoenes won it in stoppage-time after both teams had been reduced to 10 men with Jack Westbrook being sent-off for two bookable offences before Kettering captain Michael Richens soon followed after a lunge on Alex Collard.
The defeat ended Diamonds’ seven-match unbeaten run and saw them drop out of the play-off places in the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central.
But boss Peaks felt he couldn’t have asked for anymore than his players gave him in front of a bumper crowd of 2,147 - 591 of which were following the Diamonds.
“It’s an absolute whammy for us, conceding a last-minute goal in a derby is gutting when you have deserved a point,” he said.
“I am devastated for the players because they have put a real shift in on a New Year’s Day in front of a lot of people. They gave a really good account of themselves and I don’t think they deserved that.
“We tried to pass the ball in difficult conditions and we had a couple of good moves in the first half without an end product and then we have scored a lovely goal in the second half and had a decent spell after it.
“They scored with one of their first attempts on target, which was disappointing and I will have to watch their winner again to be honest. The lads thought there was a possibility he was offside but I can’t see that from where I was.
“Last-minute goals happen, we had two ourselves on Saturday (in the 3-3 draw with Biggleswade Town). I have been in football a long time and I am going to have to take it on the chin. As much as we enjoyed it at the weekend, we will really rue this one.
“But nothing has been won or lost as a result of this game. It was a big day for the local area and a massive game for both sets of fans and players.
“Our players did our fans and me proud and I couldn’t have asked for a lot more.”