Joy turned to despair for Gosport & Fareham as a heroic 32-26 win over Hove gave them belief they had done enough to avoid relegation – only for them to find out they were down by the narrowest of margins.
Scott Ashley’s men were celebrating their bonus-point victory after the final whistle.
It hauled them level on points with drop rivals Beckenham on the final day of the London one south season.
Gosport believed they would stay up by virtue of having the better points difference.
But it was not to be, as Beckenham survived because they had won more games over the course of the season.
It was a real sickener for Gosport head coach Scott Ashley and his men.
‘We are gutted and totally deflated,’ said Ashley.
‘I am so proud of the lads because they did everything they could to keep us up.
‘There was confusion at the end of the game but we were elated because we thought it would be decided on points difference which meant we had done enough.
‘Eventually though, we got the final confirmation Beckenham had nudged it.’
Wes Dugan’s third-minute try, converted by Alex Duncombe, after helped to settle early nerves at Gosport Park.
But Hove hit back with three tries to lead.
Full-back Tom Lewis crossed for a vital converted try on the stroke of half-time, cutting Gosport’s deficit to 21-14 at the break.
Second row forward Mark Pollard then levelled the scores at 21-21 – with another converted try three minutes into the second half.
It continued to be an exciting contest, with a Duncombe penalty followed by another Hove try.
Gosport finished the stronger though, with another Duncombe penalty and a try from centre Wayne Dugan, two minutes from time, to seal the win.
‘It was a brilliant, brutal spectacle and there were times when I felt my heart was coming through my chest, it was so tense,’ said Ashley.
However, Gosport were left to rue their poor start to the season.
Ashley added: ‘You don’t beat the top-tier sides as we have done – Hove, Wimbledon and Sidcup – unless there’s something about you.
‘But we just had too much ground to make up.
‘We lost this at the beginning of the season.
‘We had a crisis meeting at Christmas and said we had to target and win seven games to stay up and we won six.
‘The lads are disappointed but their heads aren’t bowed and I’m immensely proud of them.
‘We underperformed in the first half of the season and performed in the second half. That wasn’t good enough.
‘We’ve now got three weeks off to lick our wounds and the players can drink as much beer and eat as many pizzas as they want.
‘Then it’s back to start pre-season training (on May 14) when they go into six weeks of strength and conditioning work.’