Sutton United boss Paul Doswell has admitted that the Skrill South play-off semi-final second leg was a game too far for his injury ravaged side.
A 3-0 reverse against Dover Athletic on Saturday sent United crashing out of the chase for the Skrill Premier 4-1 on aggregate.
The defeat came despite playing against 10 men for virtually the entire match, but it is Dover who face Ebbsfleet in this weekend’s final.
In response, a section of United fans vented their spleen on the club’s forum describing United’s performance as “gutless”, “clown-like” and “embarrassing”.
However, Doswell reacted by revealing the true extent of the injury crisis that has crippled United’s final weeks of the season.
“I feel sick that we did not give it our best shot, but it was not a question of lacking ability or under-performing, it was more about players being injured and unable to give their best,” he said.
“How can I criticise the players when they have given me everything on the pitch? When they have put themselves through the mill just to get out there?
“Dale Binns played through the first leg with an injured ankle that kept him out of Saturday. Charlie Clough, Will Spetch and Damian Scannell all needed injections just to get on the pitch.
“Marvin Williams probably should not have played but wanted to help, Gavin McCallum and Jamie Slabber were on the bench but injured.”
He added: “I will defend my players to the hilt, they do not deserve the criticism they got on the forum, and that is why I responded.
“We kept a lot of the injury news a secret, and maybe we should not have done that, but now everyone knows.
“Should we have had a bigger squad? No, I don’t think so, when you lose six of an 18-man squad, you can consider yourself unlucky.”
Dover lost skipper Craig Stone to a red card in the third minute, but two second half goals from Ricky Modeste and a Moses Ademola strike sealed United’s fate.
Doswell said: “All credit to Dover, they were the better team and I’ve no complaints over the result, so they deserve our congratulations.”