Sheffield United suffered yet more play-off heartbreak as their hopes of returning to the Championship were dashed by Yeovil Town.
Goals from Kevin Dawson and Edward Upson left Gary Johnson’s side preparing for a visit to Wembley and condemned the visitors’ to another season in League One.
United, who had entered the second leg of this play-off semi-final boasting a 1-0 lead, looked shaken, shattered and completely crestfallen as they trooped off the pitch.
It was left to their manager, Chris Morgan, handed the reins when Danny Wilson was relieved of his duties last month, to try to salvage something from the wreckage of an afternoon which promised much but ultimately delivered little except frustration and crushing disappointment.
“It’s a cruel way to lose,” Morgan said. “But what we have got is an honest group of professionals who want the best for this club.
“I told the lads in the dressing room that they’ve got hearts the size of lions.
“I genuinely congratulate them on that.
“After they scored, we put them on the back foot.
“We huffed and puffed but did we create enough? Probably not.”
Morgan’s summing-up of United’s performance was spot-on.
United, who have now failed to win promotion all seven times they have made the end-of-season knockouts, engineered plenty of promising openings after Dawson had pounced.
But their lack of a ruthless cutting edge meant the vast majority went to waste, although Jamie Murphy did hit the crossbar before Upson converted Paddy Madden’s late cross.
Unearthing a centre-forward, preferably with electric pace, must be United’s priority over the next few weeks.
Morgan, confirming he “wants the job” on a permanent basis, said: “Football has a nasty habit of kicking you in the what-sits when you least expect it.
“We know budgets will dictate lots of things but we’ve got some superb young players here. What they’ve got to do is bottle this feeling, even though it’s not nice, and use it to drive them on.”
Johnson, the Yeovil manager, made no attempt to downplay the significance of yesterday’s fixture, describing it as “one of the most important in the club’s history” in a set of programme notes which also laid bare the approach his team would adopt.
“Our back four will need to play just like they did at Bramall Lane and our front six will need to be slightly more potent,” he said.
With the prolific Madden and James Hayter spearheading Yeovil’s bid to wipe out the slender advantage United had established during last week’s first leg in South Yorkshire, Johnson understandably judged it would be pointless to try to conceal their tactics.
Morgan, though, did spring a surprise with teenage centre-forward Joe Ironside intially preferred to the experienced Dave Kitson.
It was a big call overshadowed by goals from Dawson and Upson which propelled Yeovil into the divisional showpiece later this month.
“I don’t know what it is about this club and the play-offs,” Morgan said. “If somebody does know then I’d be more than happy to sit down with them to have a cup of tea and a chat.
“What we have to do now, though, is dust ourselves down and bounce back.
“Next season starts now.”
United, without injured midfielder Barry Robson, were forced to contend with a series of searching crosses into George Long’s penalty area as their opponents attempted to take charge of the opening skirmishes.
Dan Burn, Yeovil’s on-loan centre-half, headed Luke Ayling’s centre wide and Neill Collins made several important interceptions before Upson’s delightful pass allowed Dawson to beat the advancing Long after only six minutes.
That setback provoked an impressive response from the visitors with Kevin McDonald and later Doyle both trying their luck from long range.
Murphy also came close to embarrassing Marek Stech midway through the opening period before later seeing an excellent effort rebound back off the crossbar.
Despite painting themselves as being on the side of the purists, Yeovil also possess a physical edge.
Callum McFadzean, who scored the only goal of Friday’s first leg, came in for particular punishment but stuck to his task well and was involved in the next two moments of note.
First, the youngster saw an appeal for a 15th-minute penalty waved away by the officials after being tripped on the edge of the box before his ghosting run set in motion the chain of events which saw Stech palm Doyle’s drive over the crossbar.
But only a good reaction save from Long prevented Joseph Edwards from doubling Yeovil’s lead after yet another fast break.
Far from being consumed by nerves, McFadzean seemed inspired by the importance of the occasion.
Jamie McAllister, the Yeovil captain, provided his defence with some respite from the winger’s surges forward with a free-kick which spiralled dangerously off the United wall six minutes before the interval.
Murphy and Chris Porter, who drew a fine tackle from Burns soon after the re-start, thrust Morgan’s men back on the front foot before the usually reliable Madden inexplicably headed over an open goal from Ayling’s cross.
As the searing Somerset heat began to take its toll, the contest became increasingly stretched.
Matt Hill unleashed a dangerous drive from range before scampering back to prevent a deep centre reaching Yeovil’s Sam Foley at the far post.
Edwards flung himself in front of McDonald’s first-time effort and Murphy’s low centre flew agonisingly beyond Porter’s outstretched boot before Hayter glanced wide after Madden had turned provider.
Then, with barely five minutes of normal time, Upson pounced and United’s hopes evaporated.
*YEOVIL TOWN: Stech 6, Ayling 6, McAllister 7, Webster 6, Upson 6, Hayter 6 (Hinds 90), Foley 6, Madden 7, Burn 6, Edwards 7, Dawson 7. Not used: Blizzard, Williams, Stewart, Maksimenko, Young, Balanta.
*SHEFFIELD UNITED: Long 6, Westlake 6 (Higginbotham 54, 6), Hill 6, Maguire 6, Collins 7, Doyle 7, McDonald 6, Murphy 7, McFadzean 7 (Flynn 86), Ironside 6 (Kitson 64, 6), Porter 6. Not used: Coyne, Barry, Whitehouse, Chapell.