Play-off defeat hurt as much as Norwich City relegation - Fleming
Lowestoft Town first team coach Craig Fleming admitted Saturday's Ryman League play-off final defeat to Tonbridge Angels left him feeling as low as he has ever felt during his football career.
The Blues sunk to a 4-3 defeat at Longmead in a pulsating encounter, decided by Lewis Taylor's 80th minute strike, and Fleming and his side were inconsolable at the final whistle after missing out on their dream of Conference football next season.
Fleming said only Norwich City's 6-0 defeat at Craven Cottage on the final day of the Canaries' last season in the Premier League compared to the emotions he was feeling at Tonbridge but insisted the Blues will be even stronger next season as a result of their disappointment.
'I just can't sum up how I'm feeling,' said Fleming, whose side looked favourites to win in Kent when Lubomir Guentchev's wonder strike brought them back to 3-3 having been 3-1 down at half time.
'I can't remember feeling this down – I honest can't. It's probably up there with Fulham when I was with Norwich.'
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Lowestoft paid the price for a lacklustre first half display as Tonbridge dangerman Ade Olorunda terrorised the Blues' defensive line.
The Angels frontman opened the scoring after 12 minutes before Danny Walder doubled their advantage with a deflected free kick.
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Scott Mitchell pulled one back but a rash challenge by Curtis Haynes-Brown on Olorunda allowed Walder to restore his side's two-goal advantage from the penalty spot before half time.
'In the first half I didn't think we were great to be honest.
'We just didn't start well at all – we knew what we needed to do but we didn't win enough of our personal battles.
'But the lads deserve credit for the way they hung in there and we had a good chat with them at half-time and it made a difference.'
Andrew Cave-Brown reduced the arrears before Guentchev's 25-yard screamer levelled the scores 13 minutes from time and Fleming thought there was only going to be one winner from this point until Tonbridge midfielder Taylor broke Blues' hearts.
'It was one-way traffic in the second half and I thought we would go on to win it,' he added. 'But we got it back to 3-3 and went for a snooze and we got punished.
'We switched off and fair play to them because they kept at it as well. It was one hell of a game for the neutral.'
The Lowestoft management team will now start preparing for another season in the Ryman League Premier and Fleming admitted the club wull be doing everything it can to avoid the play-off route in future.
'Everyone is really hurting now but we will go away for a few days and then have a meet up and start concentrating for next season.
'It's up to us to come back stronger from this and I'm sure that we will.'