HARROGATE TOWN boss John Reed blasted his side's defending as "like an U12s side" following their agonising Presidents' Cup exit at the hands of UniBond Division One outfit Workington – 4-3 on penalties after drawing 4-4.
The Wetherby Roaders led three times thanks to a Colin Hunter double and Glenn Naylor strike during normal time before being pegged back by the Cumbrians, and were grateful to a last-gasp equaliser from substitute Curtis Bitton-Price to take the game to spot-kicks.
But misses from Robbie Whellans and Glenn Naylor meant Town bowed out of the competition- to the disappointment of Reed.
"It was an absolute sickener," he admitted.
"It must be one of the worst ways to go out, but we've only got ourselves to blame. When you take the lead three times you expect to win, but we made mistakes and were punished."
Reed revealed "he had not witnessed anything like" the topsy-turvy nature of the match and after living every moment on the touchine, pinpointed "schoolboy defending" as the catalyst for defeat.
"It could have finished eight apiece," he revealed.
"For a neutral it would have been a magnificent football match because it had everything; but to be the manager on the losing side was hard to take.
"When you score four in a semi-final you should win the game so I feel sorry for the midfielders and the attackers because the defenders let them down," he added.
The defeat may represent Town's last chance of lifting silverware this term after slipping out of championship contention recently and Reed expressed his disappointment at missing out on a showpiece final against Barrow.
"I'm absolutely gutted for the chairman and the supporters," he added.
"It is dreadful not to be in the final because it would have been our fourth final in four years; but it wasn't meant to be and I wish Workington all the best in their final."
Town's woes were compounded by a midweek league defeat to Alfreton Town (0-2) – but although Reed was disappointed with his side's fourth successive defeat, he was more heartened by their display.
"The players gave a better account of themselves," he added.
"We needed that goal to get us going but luck has deserted us at the moment."
Reed felt the game hinged on a 60-second spell before the interval as following a Mark Atkins free-kick striking the post, Alfreton countered straight upfield to score the opening goal.
"It was a very tight game," Reed added.
"We were a quarter of an inch from going ahead from Mark's free-kick but we ended up going into the interval a goal down."
Meanwhile, Reed has been scouring the transfer market in a bid to "freshen up the side" and the Town chief brought in defender Craig Morley from Scunthorpe United and midfielder Michael Coghlan from Darlington on loan. Both made their Town debuts in Nottinghamshire.
"I felt we needed to freshen things up," he added.
"Craig (Morley) had a great debut at Alfreton while Michael (Coghlan) maybe struggled with the pace of the game."
Next on the agenda is the hosting of third-placed Barrow; and after the Cumbrians dumped Town out of the FA Cup and FA Trophy, Reed is hoping the arrival of Lee Turnbull's men and a large travelling contingent, will instigate a reversal of fortunes.
"Barrow are two-one up at the moment," Reed added.
"But although we are not on the top of our game, it would be nice to do the double on them in the league."
Reed has pinpointed hitman Neil Campbell as Barrow's dangerman and feels the continued absence of Neil Aspin may pose problems for his side.
"I rate Neil as the best forward in the league and wish we had him," he added.
"Neil (Aspin) has had some right tussles with him in the past because he is a right handful but 'Aspo' will be missing tomorrow."
Aspin is expected to return for Town's trip to Vauxhall Motors on Tuesday night (7.45pm) – but Reed will have big striker Marc Smith available for tomorrow's game feels the return of the "big lad" is a timely boost for his side.
"You don't know how much you will miss him until he's gone," added the boss.
"He doesn't miss anything in the air and we've missed him in recent weeks."
Meanwhile, Reed confirmed that inspirational midfielder Scott Bonsall has been sold to Stalybridge Celtic for a nominal fee and paid tribute to the service of the Sheffield-born midfielder.
"He has been a great player for us," he added.
"When fit he is one of the best players in the UniBond League, he wears his heart on his sleeve and would run through a brick wall for the club. But he has been on the treatment table too much this season and it was an offer we couldn't refuse."
The Harrogate Town Supporters Club are running a coach to Southport on Saturday March 20.
The coach leaves the ground at 11am and the price is 9 adult, 7 for concessions. There will be an additional charge of 2 for non-members.
To book, call Phil Harrison on (01423) 525211 or John Walker on (01423) 529468.