“Gutted” was how Sutton United Manager Matt Gray summed up his emotions following his side’s heart-breaking Papa Johns Trophy Final defeat to Rotherham United.
The U’s twice led at Wembley Stadium, with Donovan Wilson opening the scoring and skipper Craig Eastmond restoring their advantage just after half-time.
But the EFL debutants ultimately came agonisingly short of a fairytale victory as Jordi Osei-Tutu broke Sutton hearts with a leveller six minutes into stoppage time, before goals from Chiedozie Ogbene and Michael Ihiekwe secured the crown for the Millers.
A dejected Gray said: “We’re whiskers away from a great 90-minute performance and walking up those steps as winners, but unfortunately, we just couldn’t see it out for those last few moments, so the overriding emotion is that I’m gutted.
“I’m gutted for everyone – the staff, the supporters, the Board and more than anybody else, the players, for the shift they’ve put in and for being that close.”
Sutton, who prior to this season had never been an EFL Club in their 123-year history, were seemingly unfazed by the occasion, going toe-to-toe with the Sky Bet League One leaders.
A promising start saw Will Randall miss a glaring chance to break the deadlock when he dragged a shot from close-range wide, before Wilson’s tidy finish put the Yellows in front.
Having only been undone by a spectacular Ben Wiles strike on the stroke of half-time, Sutton regrouped admirably and regained the lead through Eastmond, who poked home to send the Sutton supporters into a frenzy.
However, Gray’s side were running on empty in the latter stages, as several players battled with cramp and fatigue. And having been hit with a hammer blow just moments before the final whistle, the U’s boss confessed he was concerned about the prospect of having to play an additional half an hour.
“I knew before the game that if we went to extra time, it’d be tough for us,” he admitted. “It was just a step too far for the players.
“We’ve played a hell of a lot of games in a short space of time, and I’ve been hit by the worst spate of injuries I’ve had since I’ve been a Manager. I had players out there who have hardly trained and haven’t had a lot of minutes.
“We knew we’d have to win it in the 90. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it, so full credit to Rotherham and Paul Warne.”