Photo gallery: King’s Lynn title torment
King's Lynn joint boss Gary Setchell insists the planning for next season must start now after Town suffered a seemingly fatal blow to their UCL Premier Division title hopes.
Lynn can still mathematically overhaul St Neots, but the champions-elect need just two wins from their remaining three games – the next two against mid-table outfits Daventry and St Ives both at home – to seal promotion to step four.
Town's first league defeat at The Walks looked inevitable when former Norwich City youngster Pat Bexfield was red-carded just before the interval.
Ex-Linnet Lewis Webb despatched the penalty to put the visitors firmly in control after former Aston Villa striker Stefan Moore had earlier nudged St Neots ahead.
Dan Jacob then curled a left-footer past Alex Street within five minutes of the restart, but Jack Defty and Jamie Thurlbourne's penalty in two stirring minutes prior to the hour mark momentarily rocked the Saints. Jacob's second on 80 minutes settled the contest and effectively sealed the big-spenders' league coronation.
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'Never say never in football, but I was quoted as saying it was winner-takes-all and there would have to be two good sides to beat them now,' said Setchell, with Lynn 10 points adrift and only five games left
'The players have been tremendous. I want to put that on record. We have worked with such a small squad for a big amount of games, a lot of big games, and these are the same players the fans have cheered all season. They applauded them off at the end and they deserved that for their efforts.
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'When we look back it's been an unsuccessful, successful season if I can describe it like that. If we win these last five we have 103 points and if someone had said that to me before the start of the season and it wouldn't have been good enough to win the league, I'd have eaten my hat.'
Setchell felt the title showdown hinged on Bexfield's sending off after the full-back hauled down Shane Tolley.
'They deserved to be 1-0 up at that stage and it was a penalty, but it was a definite yellow card,' said Setchell. 'If anyone watches football you see those incidents all day long. Penalty, yellow card – no question. It was the same ref who sent two of their players off at Newport earlier in the season and that cost them points.
'I think the first opportunity he had to get the red card out, out it came. Maybe he felt he owed them one.
'In all fairness when we look back at this game we'll feel we left a bit in the bank first half. I thought St Neots bossed it for 25, 30 minutes.
'They looked a level above us. We looked tired, we looked heavy and the ball wasn't sticking so we couldn't get out. At half-time we had a few words, and it was probably the most animated I have been since coming in, and the 10 men had a go.'
Setchell conceded St Neots will be worthy champions, but believes Lynn can inherit their crown next season.
'They have a bit of everything. Size, pace, experience and they are a very, very good side,' he said. 'We have just come up a little short. We won two games against them, but they have won arguably the most important one.
'They have a lot of good players, lads with experience in the Championship and Premier League – but regardless of how much money they spent, they beat us where it mattered.
'The planning starts now. We have four home fixtures in a week coming up against bottom six sides and maybe it is an opportunity to look at a few things.'
Setchell believes Town must strengthen the spine of their team.
'We need three right down the centre of the pitch,' he said. 'We need a big centre half, a big central midfielder and a rapid centre forward. A few of the players have to look at themselves because the performance in the second half was far higher than they have produced in recent weeks, which really disappoints me.
'This was the biggest game of the season and they should have put it in for 90 minutes. We showed them too much respect.
'It's not the first time that has happened to us and we've said for a while now we need some experience, but this club is only going one way and that is up.'