Lowestoft Town’s Craig Fleming can’t believe playoff final defeat

Lowestoft Town director of football Craig Fleming admitted to 'feeling sick' for his players after the Blues' heartbreaking play-off defeat against AFC Hornchurch yesterday.

Michael Spencer's winner in extra time ensured the Trawlerboys will remain in the Ryman League Premier Division next season despite looking the better side for long periods against the Essex outfit.

There looked to be only one winner after Dean Sinclair's spot-kick had cancelled out Leon McKenzie's close range strike in the first period of extra time but Fleming's men paid the price for throwing too many men forward searching for a winner.

'I just can't believe it – I thought the first 90 minutes were pretty even and then they went 1-0 up and after it was one-way traffic,' said the former Norwich City defender, whose side experienced play-off despair last season in the final against Tonbridge Angels. 'I was sure we would go on to win it after we got back on terms.

'To be done twice in two years after late goals hurts – I feel sick for the players. Through the season, we've had our ups and downs, but today I felt really sorry for them.'

To compound Lowestoft's disappointment, the management team thought play should have been stopped in the lead up to Hornchurch's opener when Adam Smith appeared to be elbowed by an opponent.

'Smudger (Smith) got elbowed in the head and went down – I think he has potentially got a broken jaw and the referee has just played on,' said Fleming. 'The referee didn't stop the game for a head incident, they carried on playing and they scored as a result. It was like that today.'

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Fleming hopes to build on the character shown by his team in leading an all out assault on automatic promotion next season.

'We've had a couple of injuries and had to shuffle things around the whole day and the lads just kept coming back and coming back,' he added. 'The players really didn't deserve to lose like that.

'It hurts now, we've got a game on Thursday (Suffolk Premier Cup final against Bury) and we've got to dust ourselves down and start planning for next season.'

After the rawness of yesterday's result has subsided Fleming plans to sit down with the rest of the management team and start plotting their path for next season. They plan to keep the nucleus of the squad in place but there will be comings and goings through the summer.

'Obviously there will be players coming in and going out but the core of the squad will stay the same,' he said. 'For the last two years we've got progressively better. If we improve next year, there's only one place we're going to go.'