Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale could not hide his disappointment as the Grecians' promotion dream was ended with Saturday's home defeat by Cheltenham Town.
Russell Penn's early goal consigned the Grecians to a tenth home defeat of the campaign, leaving Tisdale to reflect on what could have been, with his side chasing automatic promotion as recently as Easter. But one point from 18 and a host of injuries have conspired to consign City to a second season in npower League Two following relegation from the third tier a year ago.
"It's disappointing and there are plenty of reasons why that is the case. We have been left wanting in one or two areas of our game," Tisdale said.
"I am really pleased with the way the players and the squad have committed to the season and I thought it was a fantastic effort again today from a group that has been depleted by injury of half a dozen definite starters.
"Of all the things you can say this year, to go into these final half a dozen games with definite starters and key players injured – we had another three dropping out today – was too much.
"Every side will suffer from injuries and every side will have an injury crisis, but the difference is that, here at Exeter, there is no back up to replace them.
"As much as I am pleased with the likes of [Jake] Gosling, [Jamie] Reid, [Jordan] Moore-Taylor and [Aaron] Dawson, coming into the side and playing, if you are going to be a serious promotion-chasing team, you can't be guessing on young players.
"It is great that they have the opportunity and we will benefit from it, but we have no back-up. We played against a Cheltenham team that were missing Paul Benson, but, apart from that, they were at full-strength with a very strong bench.
"It's like getting blood from a stone at times. You're trying to conjure up different situations and I would say that losing Matt Oakley in the Gillingham game was a straw too many for us. It probably sums up the last few months for us, and I think we have done really well with what I have had at my disposal."
With no fewer than six first-team regulars injured and three others patched up and playing through the pain barrier, Tisdale again had to turn to his youngsters in order to field a side.
Jordan Moore-Taylor started at centre half in place of the injured Pat Baldwin, while Jamie Reid was given a second start with striker John O'Flynn also on the sidelines. Mark Molesley pulled out through illness, while Liam Sercombe and Matt Oakley remain long-term absentees.
"We had young players coming into the side and I thought they played really well, especially in the first half and it summed up the season really," Tisdale said.
"We have lost to Cheltenham twice, have played extremely well on both occasions, but haven't scored.
"We had plenty of shots, one or two too many over the crossbar, and we snatched at a few. Maybe we could have done better there, but I thought the performance in the first half was one of our best of the season.
"It's delightful to see the likes of Jordan Moore-Taylor and Jamie Reid coming into the side and it's a sign of things to come, and we will certainly be seeing more of them next season."
The Grecians end their campaign with a trip to Chesterfield next Saturday. A win would see Exeter finish the season in eighth place. Defeat could see them end the campaign in 11th, if results elsewhere go against them.