Exeter manager Matt Taylor could not hide his disappointment as the Grecians missed the chance to be crowned League Two champions
A point would have been enough for them to pip Forest Green to the title, but a 1-0 defeat at home to Port Vale meant it was Rovers lifting the trophy on Saturday.
James Wilson scored the only goal of a dire game after 36 minutes and the Grecians lacked the quality to break a resilient Port Vale down in front of a packed St James’ Park.
“I have mixed emotions really,” Taylor said. “I thought we weren’t quite good enough on the day to win that game of football, or even draw it. It was such fine margins.
“We had Matt Jay’s header that was saved at one end and then a classy finish at the other end from a very good player, but there was very little in the game in terms of chances created and we couldn’t break them down in the second half, they managed the game really well and we didn’t have it in our legs physically to burst through, but we also didn’t have any quality today.
“But it’s been an incredible season and I would have snapped your hand off for this at the start of the season.
“It all feels a little bit damp right now, but this is only temporary.
“I am trying to get the players to smile through the next couple of hours and when they get a beer inside them and look at the final league table, they’ll see we aren’t promoted as champions, but we are promoted.
“We tried to show our appreciation to the fans today and it is never as easy to do, or nice to do when you don’t quite achieve what you wanted at the start of the day, but our appreciation is there and I am sure it will when we have the open top bus parade on Monday.”
Victory for Port Vale set them up for a play-off semi-final against Swindon.
Manager Darrell Clarke said: “We are little bit disappointed that things haven’t quite gone for us over the past few weeks, but the mentality of the group and my coaching staff has been absolutely outstanding.
“We wanted to make sure that we did our job and all we could do was to win the game.
“It was a crazy day and congratulations to the three teams that have gone up and all the best to the teams in the play-offs.
“We are looking forwards to our tie against Swindon and I am sure it will be a good double header.
“The season is finished, 46 games are done and advantage goes out of the window in the play-offs and we will prepare as we do for every single game.”