Andy Peaks admitted there was a feeling of devastation for his AFC Rushden & Diamonds players after their season ended in play-off heartbreak.
Diamonds were beaten 2-1 after extra-time as St Ives Town won the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One play-off final at ProEdge Westwood Road to earn a place in next season’s Premier Division.
Peaks’ team looked to be on their way to a second successive promotion when substitute Elliot Sandy headed them in front with just nine minutes of normal time remaining.
But Danny Watson levelled for the hosts on 88 minutes before a fine strike from Ben Seymour-Shove in the first period of extra-time proved to be enough to secure victory.
An emotional Peaks conceded he thought his team “had it won” after Sandy had nodded them into the lead.
But he still paid tribute to his squad after they came within a whisker of a second successive promotion following their United Counties League Premier Division title success a year ago.
“It was always going to be a tight game and someone was going to be happy at the end of it and someone was going to be disappointed,” the Diamonds boss said.
“Unfortunately, it’s us who are on the wrong end of it and the boys are devastated.
“We had it won. I thought we dominated the second half, we got the goal and I thought we would see it out but they have scored two great goals to win the game and sometimes, in football, there’s not a great deal you can do about it.
“The game was what I expected and we always thought it might be a set-piece that would settle it. That should have been the case.
“We switched off from their short corner and their lad has scored a good goal at the far post and then they have had another great strike in extra-time.
“I think we had a good shout for a handball right at the end but it didn’t go for us and that epitomised the second half of the season for us.
“Overall, I am very proud of the lads and I told them that because they were on the floor.
“We just didn’t have that bit of luck or the killer instinct.
“But we have come a long way from getting promoted last season and then to get to a play-off final and be a couple of minutes from promotion is a massive achievement on its own, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
“We had an incredible following with us yesterday and I think that shows the club is heading in the right direction.”