Hamilton boss Brian Rice admitted effective relegation from the Scottish Premiership with a 2-1 defeat at Ross County was “the worst feeling” he has had in football.
Scott McMann’s free-kick opener for bottom side Accies after 26 minutes in Dingwall was cancelled out two minutes later by Blair Spittal’s drive.
County substitute Charlie Lakin’s terrific strike in the 70th minute gave the home side the crucial win and left Rice’s team three points behind second-bottom Kilmarnock with a massively inferior goal difference of 18.
In the last round of fixtures, Hamilton host Kilmarnock on Sunday while the Staggies, three points ahead of Killie, are at Motherwell and need a point to avoid the relegation play-off spot.
Rice said: “It is very raw at the minute. It is the worst feeling I have ever had in football, you talk about on the pitch, I have been involved in other things in football but right now it is devastating.
“It’s very hard to explain, we’re used to being the team that everybody says will go down. Eventually they’ve been proven right. Eventually.
“We need to take it on the chin, and regroup and make sure we are ready to go when the new season kicks off.
“We played really, really well. Not to take a point is disappointing, but to lose is devastating.
“I thought we played fantastically well, created a lot of chances, dominated the match for spells but we just didn’t have enough to get over the line.
“You see my team out there tonight, fighting for everything. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.
“Fair play to Ross County, they had a job to do and did it. I’m delighted that my friend John has kept them up.
“What we’ve been through this season, my boys have been fantastic. We’ve just not been good enough.”
County boss John Hughes was delighted for the players.
“It’s all about them,” he said. “They have worked ever so hard since I have come in and we have had to really galvanise them.
“We have put demands on them and we have had a great response. We have given ourselves a chance to stay in the Premiership so when that chance comes along, like tonight, I’m absolutely delighted we took it.”
Hughes was disappointed for friend, former team-mate and ex-managerial colleague Rice.
He said: “Everybody knows how close Chipper (Rice) and I are. I think we were together for about 15 years.
“He’s absolutely different class, he’s a real good coach who knows the game like the back of his hand.
“He’s at a good club who have defied the odds for a number of years to stay in the Premiership.
“They have got a right good guy in charge – I know his work ethic. I’m quite sure he will bring them right back up in one go.”