Martin Swales admitted he was still in a state of disbelief after seeing his Sunderland RCA side crash out of the FA Vase at the weekend.
RCA led Newport Pagnell 2-0 at half-time in their fifth round tie thanks to goals from Colin Larkin and Stephen Callen, only to be pegged back and eventually lose 3-2 in extra time.
The heartache of conceding an equaliser seven minutes into injury time, with the game seemingly won, will haunt Swales and his players for years to come as they missed out on a quarter-final slot in the cruellest fashion.
The Meadow Park boss pointed to the second-half injuries to key men Clayton Davis and Larkin as one reason for their late fall.
He said: “I still can’t believe it. We absolutely murdered them.
“The chances we had were unreal. At 2-0 up, we were cruising at half-time and they hadn’t had a shot on our goal until about 70 minutes.
“We lost Clayton Davis and Colin Larkin on 65 minutes and 67 minutes through injury, and lost a bit of shape after that.
“Pagnell were big and strong and we got bullied in the last half an hour.
“Clayton and Colin are very experienced and good organisers, who can lead our young lads, and that’s where we suffered a bit.
“You just couldn’t see us getting beat after an hour. Even when they scored their first, I couldn’t see them equalising. That 97th-minute goal absolutely killed us.
“We were dead on our feet after that. We had players going down with cramp, but we had already made three subs.”
Swales led RCA to the fifth round last year as well, going out 3-2 in extra time to Bristol Manor Farm, and had hopes of not just going one step further this year but possibly reaching Wembley.
He added: “The lads are gutted. We will never have a better chance of getting through than that.
“We have beaten better teams than them already this season. Stockton were better than Newport, so were Dunston.
“You look at the teams left in the competition and apart from South Shields, there isn’t anyone who stands out.
“We were just three games from Wembley and that’s why it’s so hard to take.”
RCA totally dominated the first half, keeping possession for long periods and deservedly went ahead on 22 minutes, when, following an excellent team move, Larkin scored when he fired home from the edge of the box.
They deservedly doubled their lead in the 39th minute when Callen rifled a shot home from outside the box into the bottom corner.
John Butler passed up a good chance to make it 3-0, and, on 69 minutes, Daryl Smith pulled one back when, following a good run, he fired past goalkeeper Jonathan Carmichael.
In the last seconds, RCA were rocked by an equaliser, when Adam Pyke composed himself and finished well.
Newport Pagnell grabbed the extra-time winner after a long ball found Smith, who got the final touch to edge the ball past Carmichael.
RCA had a chance to equalise with virtually the last kick of the game, but goalkeeper Osbourne pulled off an excellent save to deny the Wearsiders.