SWINDON Town head coach Ben Garner was full of pride for his team after the Robins saw their League Two play-off campaign end in penalty shoot-out heartbreak against Port Vale on Thursday night.
Town’s 2-1 aggregate-lead quickly went up in smoke after James Wilson tapped home following a stonewall penalty decision that could have put Swindon ahead moments prior.
Garner’s men recovered to see more of the ball but failed to create regular chances as the Valiants later hit the post and saw Lewis Ward prevent a 120th-minute winner.
After seeing Josh Davison waste a chance to go through in the shoot-out, Ellis Iandolo was the unlucky man to miss the all-important set-piece.
A lacklustre attacking performance from Town saw the Wiltshire side have just a solitary shot on target throughout 120 minutes of nail-biting football at Vale Park.
Full of pride but bitterly disappointed at the manner of the loss, Garner said: “To go 120 minutes without scoring, and we didn’t have our usual threat, that was disappointing.
“But the effort that has been put in has been incredible from those players in that dressing room – the majority of who had no pre-season – and there they are in the play-offs playing 120 minutes and going all the way to penalties.
“We lacked a little bit of a spark today, but they’ve given everything over the course of the season and I’m so proud of them.”
After recovering from a blistering first 20 minutes by Vale, Swindon began to gain some control and looked the more likely to score the longer the tie went on.
But it was a third penalty shoot-out defeat in the last five play-off campaigns for a side that had been tipped for relegation at the start of the season.
Garner said: “We can play a lot better than what we did, without a shadow of a doubt, and we have done pretty regularly this season.
“It’s been a monumental effort, not just from the start of the season but also in this last run of games where we’ve had to win back-to-back games to get into the play-offs.
“We haven’t got a big squad, but the players have given everything. Unfortunately, we’ve just fallen short today.
“It’s a very bitter pill to swallow because I thought we should have had a penalty – quite a clear hand ball, and then their goal is offside. But I have to say, that sums up the refereeing we’ve had this season.”