IT wasn't meant to be like this.
The tears shed by Town were not of joy but of gut-wrenching pain.
Men who have given blood and sweat for the blue and white stripes all season were enveloped in agony at the realisation they'd missed out on automatic promotion.
Young players, older players and fans alike were distraught - so close and yet so far away from their goal of Division II football next season.
Manager Peter Jackson struggled to contain his emotions at the end, sickened that the beachballs and tickertape which welcomed his bravehearts weren't needed again as the curtain fell so cruelly on a regular campaign of such startling development at the McAlpine.
His anguish was understandable, shared with 1,739 fans at Whaddon Road and 5,163 more at the McAlpine, but the promotion dream is not yet dead.
Town have a two-legged play-off date with Lincoln City fast on the horizon and the incentive of a trip to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on May 31 to drive them on.
It won't be easy after the events of Saturday afternoon in the Mendips, but this is not the time to wallow in self pity and allow the raw grief of missing out be become a debilitating millstone.
Town need to emerge strong and positive from this near traumatic experience, hang their hopes on the ability which has carried them through 46 matches as one of the best teams in the division and celebrate the fact they will have Efe Sodje and Danny Schofield back for the deciders.
Both players have been sorely missed through suspension as Town have collected just one point from their final couple of fixtures when two would have been enough to pip Torquay for the slot alongside Doncaster and Hull in the higher echelon.
Their return to Town action will allow Jackson to revert to the personnel who pushed the club to the very edge of glory last month and, while his decision to stick with an unchanged side and formation after the home defeat by Mansfield was a big surprise and talking point among fans, it was not the reason Town came up short on the final day.
That was down to what coach Terry Yorath described as `pushing the panic button' in the second half rather than continuing to play the football which had seen them dominant and controlling in the first.
Instead of holding possession well up front, under the guidance of inspirational captain Andy Booth, and allowing the midfield and wingbacks to support, Town resorted to defending too deep and hoofing the ball down field with no thought or direction.
It allowed a hard-working but ordinary Cheltenham side to gain in belief and, even though they had Damian Spencer sent-off after 62 minutes for a late challenge on David Mirfin - mirroring the one which had Paul Scott curled up in pain for his first booking - they played better and better as the game went on. Just like at Kidderminster, Town seemed unable to cope with playing against 10 men.
It was sad that the outcome overshadowed a brilliant contribution from Booth, who slotted his 100th club goal after 15 minutes to set the scene for a promotion party.
Teed up by an exquisite flick over the defence from Pawel Abbott, Booth scored with a lovely angled shot to join George Brown, Jimmy Glazzard, Billy Smith and Les Massie as the only men with 100 Town goals to their name.
That's a special achievement and one which deserved a celebratory ending, but it wasn't to be because of a calamitous mistake by Abbott just 15 minutes from time and with Torquay still leading at Southend.
Receiving a pass from John McAliskey wide on the right, he headed back into trouble near his own box instead of taking a safety-first option.
His backpass to keeper Paul Rachubka, who had barely been tested all game, fell short enough for Kayode Odejayi to nip in and present Shane Duff with a first ever goal for his only club.
There was a realisation then that Town might falter, and especially after cruel rumours of a Southend equaliser v Torquay brought cheers from Town's travelling fans.
Booth, McAliskey and David Mirfin (in the Division III team of the week) all went close to winning it for Town as substitute Nat Brown did well, while Grant McCann and substitute Bob Taylor both missed sitters for Cheltenham to win out.
The abiding image, however, will be of the crestfallen Abbott in the silence of the car park afterwards, being consoled in the comforting words and arms of his father.
HOW THEY RATED: Paul Rachubka Wasn't tested much as most of Cheltenham's efforts were off target. Left stranded for the goal by Abbott's pass Rating: 7/10
Andy Holdsworth Romped forward with lots of confidence in the first half and did his best to rally Town in the final frantic minutes Rating: 7/10
Anthony Lloyd Had to be watchful of Cheltenham's talented right-back Wilson but moved forward to fire some good crosses Rating: 6/10
David Mirfin A rock at the back while marking Spencer, he produced some great blocks and tackles and was top man at the back Rating: 8/10
Paul Scott Did some valuable work as sweeper playing slightly in front of the markers. Sacrificed for Brown late in the piece Rating: 6/10
Steve Yates Did a fine job marking Odejayi and flung himself into a succession of challenges without fear. Fine effort Rating: 7/10
Pawel Abbott Set up Booth's 100th Town goal brilliantly, but he will be haunted by the mistake which cost his side the equaliser Rating: 6/10
Jon Worthington Worked as hard as ever but the slippery surface made it difficult for Town to play to their controlled and effective best Rating: 6/10
Tony Carss Hammered a free-kick and a long-range shot very close but finished the game struggling with a thigh injury Rating: 6/10
Andy Booth Joined the club legends with his 100th goal but ended the day in tears as his beloved Town failed to clinch third spot Rating: 9/10
John McAliskey Valiant effort and had a couple of shots blocked in the desperate closing moments of added time as Town piled forward Rating: 7/10
Next page: Man of the Match >>>
Man of the match: Andy Booth
Magnificent show from the skipper, who worked tirelessly for the cause and scored his 100th goal for the club. What a pity it didn't count for more and take Town up because that would have been a fitting salute
The moment Pawel Abbott started towards his own goal with the ball before leaving his backpass short enough for Odejayi to nip in, lay it off to Shane Duff and Town's hopes to be shattered with a long cross-shot as keeper Rachubka was left in no man's land
Subs used: Cheltenham: Taylor for Fyfe 67 mins, Brayson for Odejayi 80. Town: Onuora for Abbott 78, Brown for Scott 84.
Subs not used: Cheltenham: Book, Cleverley, Connolly. Town: Senior, Edwards, Fowler.
Scorers: Cheltenham: S Duff 75. Town: Booth 15.
Referee - Scott Mathieson (Stockport).
Dismisal: Cheltenham: Spencer on 62 mins, after second yellow card (fouls on Scott and Mirfin).
Bookings: Town: Carss and Yates.
Shots on target: Cheltenham 2, Town 7.
Corners: Cheltenham 4, Town 4.
Caught offside: Cheltenham 2, Town 1.
Free-kicks awarded: Cheltenham 18, Town 9.
Attendance: 5,814 (Away: 1,739).