Agony and ecstasy on final day in League One and League Two
Rösler must get Bees buzzing again for the play-offs as promotion is cruelly snatched
The eyes, they say, are windows on the soul. Uwe Rösler's were stagnant pools of disbelief, dejection, and other equally damaging emotions. The Brentford manager now faces the defining week of his nascent career.
He took training when he, and his team, should have been in therapy. Losing out on promotion, in a dramatic, almost dream-like, 20 seconds which confirmed Doncaster Rovers as League One champions, was devastating.
Football, at its best and its worst, can produce compelling street theatre and raw human drama. Griffin Park was traumatised from the moment Marcello Trotta hit the bar with a 95th-minute penalty, which immediately preceded James Coppinger's winning goal.
Rösler must lift his Bees players for the first leg of the play-off semi-final, against Swindon Town on Saturday, but admitted: "I need to pick myself up before I can think about that. We all need to pick ourselves up, because the circumstances in which we lost promotion are very difficult to take. We were 20 seconds from the Championship. Everybody is hurting but it is very important for me that we are responsible as a group of players. We have to keep a cool head."
He spoke of the dressing room being "speechless", which was difficult to reconcile with the vivid altercation between Brentford captain Kevin O'Connor and Trotta, the Fulham loanee, a 77th-minute substitute who refused to allow anyone else to take the fateful penalty.
Rösler stopped short of outright condemnation of the Italian striker but was clearly seething with his intransigence, which he insisted would be "dealt with internally". He insisted: "The most important thing now is that we pick ourselves up because we've worked all year to get here and we're not going to give it up."
The contrasting mood of Doncaster manager Brian Flynn summed up the schizophrenia of the occasion. His contract runs out today, and he is keen to complete the formalities which will allow him to manage in the Championship for the first time next season.
He was unaware that Coppinger's goal, from a breakaway instigated by substitute Billy Paynter, had given Doncaster the title, at Bournemouth's expense, until he reached the dressing room. "You can't write a story like that," he said. "It is 20 years to the day since I last got promoted, with Wrexham.
"There's only one word for what happened here: crazy. When the penalty was awarded I just thought, 'Here come the play-offs.' Within a minute we are champions. That's the way football is sometimes; the unexpected can come out of nowhere."
Flynn started the season as a scout, when relegation left Doncaster with only six contracted players. He was promoted to manager in January when Dean Saunders left for a supposedly better opportunity at Wolves, who are almost certain to pass Doncaster on the way down. His eyes were bright, and reflected the ironies of the moment. Football, bloody hell, as someone once said.
Winners and losers
Champions Doncaster Rovers
Play-offs Swindon v Brentford; Sheffield United v Yeovil
Relegated Scunthorpe, Bury, Hartlepool, Portsmouth
League Two: Bitter tweet for Barnet as Conference future calls
As Barnet slipped out of the Football League, Lady Luck finally turning her back after three seasons of last-day escapes, a member of their academy tweeted in despair: "4 years of work all for nothing. Everything set up for growth and progress. Now means nothing." He added: "The academy has been the best thing about the club for four years."
Barnet were condemned by AFC Wimbledon's 2-1 victory over Fleetwood. It was a tense afternoon but the Dons were also looking to the long term. At half-time at Kingsmeadow, at which stage they were 0-0 and going down, they had introduced to the capacity crowd a cluster of new signings: next season's academy squad.
Those kids can look forward to a bright future. Those at Barnet and Aldershot, another club whose forward-looking youth system could not prevent relegation to the Conference on Saturday, face an uncertain one.
This is the hard reality of life on the margins. The Premier League gives every Football League club £210,000 annually for youth development. That is maintained for a year after relegation, halved in the second, then cut off. Barnet, whose women's team was last week accepted as one of 16 in the expanded Super League, will try and persevere but director of football Paul Fairclough admitted the academy would suffer. Given that relegated clubs immediately lose £500,000-plus in central funding, and suffer a reduction in other income, there is a danger that the programme is cut so severely many kids and coaches will go elsewhere, a link with the community is severed, and the road back becomes steeper still.
Last season Barnet survived with 46 points. This season they got 51, but Edgar Davids' team needed to take at least one more at Northampton. They lost 2-0. Aldershot got 48, finishing with a defeat at Rotherham that secured the latter's promotion. Cheltenham, last year's play-off runners-up, are joined in this year's finale by Burton, Northampton and Carling Cup finalists Bradford City.
While Barnet have a new ground, The Hive, with supporting income streams built in, the Shots admitted last week that administration had been considered as a result of overspending this season. For a club that went bust in 1992, and has climbed back from Isthmian (Ryman) League Division Three, relegation is a bitter blow.
Winners and losers
Promoted Rotherham, Port Vale
Play-offs Bradford v Burton Albion; Northampton v Cheltenham
Relegated Barnet, Aldershot
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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