A DESOLATE Gordon Bartlett searched for positives amid the crushing disappointment of playoff semi-final defeat at the hands of Concord last night.
The veteran of more than 1,100 games in charge of the Stones was close to tears after seeing his side’s promotion dreams wrenched from them by Rangers’ extra-time winner in the 2-1 defeat – the second time in as many seasons they had fallen at the first knockout hurdle.
The third place finish during the league campaign represents another step forward for a club which was on its knees just a few short years ago, yet now has a rising fan base – a fact recognised by Bartlett.
However, it seemed scant consolation for missing out on the holy grail of a place in the Blue Square South.
“Things are going somewhere and this club has got its heartbeat back, said Bartlett.
“The number of text messages I got today from managers of other clubs is just incredible and there are an awful lot of people envious of what we have got here, but I just want to win because that is all that matters.
“Football is about winning games. That is what you are judged on and we have had two playoff semi-finals and not won either of them, so bitterly disappointed.”
Bartlett could probably spend another 1100 games wondering how this chance passed them by after an evening where Stones dominated and at times threatened to overwhelm the spirited and resilient Beach Boys from Essex.
The hosts struck wood four-times, while Rangers’ rookie keeper Luke Chambers on loan from Southend United had the sort of night he could only have dreamt about.
Even so Bartlett’s men led 1-0 until the 88th minute before their dreams unravelled amid weary legs and rising tension.
There will be those making comparisons with defeat at the same stage last year to Lowestoft, but for Bartlett his team’s performance and the unjust nature of their exit makes this latest near miss so much harder to bear.
“I’m not remembering Lowestoft at all,” he said.
“Last year I had no complaints. I felt we had battled ever so well with Lowestoft, a couple of people got sent off, but at the end of the day we came second and I had no complaints about that.
“Tonight I’ve got massive complaints about coming second because we dominated the game from the beginning until the end.
“Their keeper has made at least two word-class saves and we probably had enough opportunities to win 4-0. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that so this is a real kick in the teeth, but that is the nature of football.”
“Is that why we love it or in my case hate it so much at the moment?”
Typically, Bartlett’s last thoughts on a heart-breaking night were for his players who he claimed – justifiably – had been magnificent in defeat.
He added: “I could not have asked more from the players and I want to highlight their attitude, not just for their effort tonight but over the last nine months.
“I feel sorrier for them than I do for anybody else because they deserved more from this evening.
“If we had been poor or beaten by a better side you could accept it, but the best side lost tonight.”