The Hawks paid the price for a tired end-of-season performance with a 5-1 thrashing by Salisbury City at the Raymond McEnhill Stadium.
The visitors were well beaten by the second-placed side – with Perry Ryan’s strike the only highlight.
And boss Lee Bradbury admitted his men were given a harsh lesson by their play-off-bound hosts.
‘It was a really disappointing, tired-looking performance,’ he said.
‘We started the game poorly – gifting them cheap goals.
‘Four of their five goals were giveaways from our point of view, so it is a big learning curve for us.
‘Salisbury are a good side and you have to give them credit but we were nowhere near our best.
‘They showed they were still fighting for something and our lads were not.
‘I won’t have that off them. It’s a real dagger in the heart and I don’t like losing.’
The home side knew a win would guarantee them the runners-up spot – and all the advantages that brings in the play-offs.
And that showed in their play right from the start as they took the game to the Hawks.
Brian Dutton gave them the lead on five minutes before Chris McPhee hit a second soon after the half-hour mark.
Full-back Jake Newton and Ed Harris both scrambled other efforts off the line as the Hawks struggled to contain the Whites.
Bradbury said: ‘The first half was the poorest we have been for a long time. We looked off the pace and lacked the energy we normally show to press high up the pitch.
‘Salisbury were first to every ball and we struggled.’
It didn’t get any better in the second half, either, as Ryan Brett smashed in a third goal on 49 minutes.
Ryan then provided the one moment of cheer for the Hawks – scoring with a blockbuster from 25 yards to spark thoughts of a fightback.
Two goals in the final three minutes from substitute Dan Fitchett, however, saw the final scoreline reflect Salisbury’s superiority.
‘Good sides come here and get something and we have to learn from that,’ said Bradbury
‘When we come to places like this we can’t afford to take 45 minutes to get going.
‘Defensively and offensively that’s the worst we have been for a while.
‘We didn’t trouble them enough and didn’t create many golden chances when we can say we should have scored. It is a rude awakening for the players and shows there is still a lot of hard work to be done.
‘Over the season we have done well and grown in confidence.
‘But we have been taught a lesson here.
‘The players need to take that on board for next season.’
HAWKS: Thomas 5, Newton 7, Grant 6, Monteiro 5 (Kabba 6, 46mins), Harris 6, Strugnell 6, Ramsey 5, Ryan 6, Palmer 6, Nanetti 6 (Jones 5, 85mins) , Arthur 6 (Noakes 5, 70m). Att: 771