MANAGER Mark Bower saluted his players after their brave bid to win promotion to the Vanaram National League was ended in heart-breaking style.

They were beaten 1-0 at Brackley Town in their play-off semi-final by an extra-time goal.

Bower said: “I am immensely proud of the players and everyone associated with the club, you know we had great turnout of our fans here, so far away and they made themselves heard from start to finish which was fantastic.

“But we’re bitterly disappointed to lose because it was some game – like a heavyweight boxing match towards the end with so many bodies on the floor and both of us slugging it out.

“The one thing that’s frustrating is that the goal that has lost it for us is a blatant handball. The lad controlled the ball with his arm to set himself up for the winning goal so that’s the one that really rankles with us."

He added: “Games like this can be won and lost on little things and that’s cost us today but I thought the referee did well apart from that. He’s missed the one big decision in the game that has cost us.

“It could have gone either way, Steve Drench has made an unbelievable save to keep them out in extra-time and we’ve missed a couple of great chances towards the end of 90 minutes.

“But I can’t ask any more from these players. You just need the little things to go for you in one off games like this and today that one didn’t and ultimately its cost us the game.

“Both keepers played really well – I thought they were the better team in the first half but second half I thought we got stronger and stronger as it went on.

"Oli Johnson had a great chance Adam Boyes had one that just wouldn’t come down quickly enough but equally they had chances at the other end.

“They were the team that took their chance when it came but it was a really good game and a great advert for the league. Both teams had a real good go at each other and I wish Brackley all the best.

“It's the second and third placed teams in the final and people will say that’s how it should be. I’m sure they will go up to Harrogate and it will be another great game.”

The Park Avenue manager took into account the affect that the searing heat had on his players.

It was a third consecutive unchanged starting line-up after the back to back victories over Kidderminster Harriers, on the final day of the season and then the play-off eliminator.

He added: “Up to 90 minutes I thought we were the stronger side but they made a couple of substitutions and they affected the game and they looked stronger towards the end of extra-time.

“That is the advantage of not having had a game in midweek because they finished third and I think the play-off system works well – giving the teams that deserve it a bit of an advantage.

“The two games against Kidderminster, Saturday and Wednesday have just caught up with us a bit towards the end. But for part-time players these lads have been fantastic for us and won games and seen games out in that last ten minutes.

“That’s a testament to their fitness.”