Mansfield Town manager Steve Evans said he was proud of his players and fans as the Stags were pipped 1-0 by title-chasing Portsmouth today to all but end their play-off dream.
But Evans was left furious by a decision by referee Lee Swabey not to send off Pompey’s Matt Clarke on 48 minutes when, as last man, he hauled down Danny Rose when he was away on goal.
In front of Mansfield’s biggest home crowd since returning to the League - 6,819 - Carl Baker netted the only goal of a very tight match on 57 minutes as Stags slipped to 12th place, two points off the top seven with one game to go but in a queue of sides hoping for Blackpool or Carlisle to slip up.
“There were two outstanding teams out there for me today,” said Evans. “We were the better team on the day but we lost.
“I have to be careful what I say but that was an atrocious refereeing performance today.
“You always look at reactions and I look at their centre half throwing his hands on his head – he thought he was away and so did their bench.
“The Portsmouth staff are feeling for us. We all know what would have happened if that had been us at Fratton Park and it had happened in reverse. I don’t think the referee would have been allowed to leave Portsmouth.
“Paul Cook said to me at the end that was the worst decision he’d seen in his career and I think I join him.
“But they will give him another game next week. This is a referee I was concerned about as he gave an atrocious decision with a penalty at Exeter last week. It’s laughable.
“There should have been a red card for a challenge on Danny Rose too. It was a whole-hearted challenge, he missed the ball and caught Danny Rose’s nose. Between them the officials missed that as well.
“It’s hard to take. But I am proud of the players and the supporters.”
Stags did waste opportunities to level the game, none more so than when Matt Green went clean through and lobbed over the bar 10 minutes from time – a golden opportunity.
“We didn’t take our chances. But I think we all know if we’d had a goalscorer when we walked into the football club we’d be up automatic, not worrying about the play-offs,” said Evans.
“They’ve had two chances today – one they score from off a deflection and then another when we’ve gone six up front. “Other than that they’re not in the game and they’ve been totally out-played. I think their manager will be the first to say that.
“My players have given everything and they are in there bemused. It’s not often you see a full dressing room just struggling to accept what’s happened today.”
Looking at the table, Evans admitted: “I think the play-offs are beyond us now. If Blackpool turn up and beat Leyton Orient they will be partying down the promenade.
“Blackpool have to win – simple as that. If they slip up there will be people waiting to take their place and we’ll be one of them
“Looking at the table it’s very difficult.
“We will apply ourselves properly and do everything right. We will be professional to the end. I’d rather finish eighth than ninth or ninth than 10th. That’s the way I am.
“There will always be the knockers around to say we didn’t deal with the big game, but we did deal with the big game but big decisions went against us. But let’s take nothing away from Portsmouth.”
He added: “Let’s look in house and what we see is missed chances at key stages. Rhys Bennett after three minutes it look easier to score and Matt Green? Well it’s all right being a goalscorer in the Conference, there is a big difference between that and the Football League, that’s the reality.”