Darren Ferguson described Doncaster Rovers’ 3-1 home defeat to Exeter City as one of the most disappointing results of his managerial career.
Rovers’ third straight defeat allowed Plymouth Argyle to leapfrog them at the top of League Two and take a one-point advantage into the final round of fixtures.
Ferguson, who despite winning three promotions with Peterborough United is yet to win a league title as a manager, could not hide his disappointment in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game.
The Scot also said he now expects Plymouth, who go to Grimsby Town on the final day, to be crowned champions.
Ferguson said: “I’m gutted, bitterly disappointed. It’s one of the most disappointing results I’ve had in ten years, without a shadow of doubt.
“To have worked so hard to get to this point and then in our penultimate game we’ve had the worst result of our season.
“At the moment it’s very raw and I’m very disappointed.
“To take from one point from four games at this part of the season, you don’t get it back because there’s not enough games left.
“It’s an incredibly disappointed dressing room, and we might never get in a position where we can be champions of a league - because that’s gone now, Plymouth will win the league.
“I’m incredibly disappointed to lose the way we have, and that’s reflected in the game and the manner of the goals. You just cannot concede goals like that in any game of football.
“You can clearly see that I’m disappointed, for everyone - even you guys in the room [the media], it’s good for the club if we go up as champions, the fans, the board, the players; I’m not angry with them because they’re not deliberately losing games, let’s make that clear. I’m just very disappointed.
“It’s an incredibly poor way to finish the season and next Saturday is now a very important game in the sense that we need a win before the season ends.
“And that’ll be tough because they [Hartlepool] need a win to stay in the Football League.
“But we’ve worked so hard to get to here, four months top of the league, and now obviously we’ve thrown that away.
“I don’t think Plymouth will be as kind as us.”
Rovers’ game at Hartlepool on Saturday (5.30pm) will be shown live on Sky Sports.