STEVE FLETCHER saw his Bournemouth side bow out of the play-offs and revealed: “Nothing can prepare you for the pain of losing a semi-final on penalties.”
The Dean Court legend, who has assistant to boss Lee Bradbury since the departure of former manager Eddie Howe to Burnley in mid-season, shed tears at the Galpharm.
But he remained fiercely proud of his players after a fourth stalemate between the sides in open play this season.
“The first thing that comes to mind is pride. I’m so proud of what we have done as a team and where we have come from,” said the 38-year-old former Hartlepool, Chesterfield and Crawley striker who is in his second spell with the Cherries.
“Going back two-and-a-half years to when I came back to the club, what the majority of those boys have been through is more than you usually get in a whole career.
“Proud is the only word I can use to describe how I feel, but I’m absolutely deflated.
“The one thing missing off my CV is playing in the Championship and I thought this was going to be it.
“I kept looking up to the Gods and praying, but it just wasn’t to be.
“I have watched many play-off semi-finals on television and thought how awful it must feel to lose on penalties, but it doesn’t prepare you for actually being involved in it.
“You can multiply by a thousand how awful it is, but I thought our boys were magnificent – I really did.”
Looking to the future, Fletcher said: “It’s cruel but we live and learn.
“We’ve got to move on now and next year the dream has to keep going.
“There’s enough out there to show we’ve got a massive chance for next year.”
Of his own career, the man who came off the bench late in the first leg and has scored seven goals this season explained: “I hope to continue playing unless Lee Bradbury tells me something different.
“I believe I can make a difference and I feel I’ve had as good season as any.”
Bournemouth skipper Jason Pearce faces the prospect of missing the opening three games of next season through suspension following his straight red card against Town.
The 23-year-old centre-back had played every minute of every match this season until being sent off for a two-footed challenge on Kevin Kilbane 22 minutes into extra time.