EMOTIONAL scenes followed Tranmere Rovers' relegation to League Two this afternoon.
John McMahon's squad were beaten 2-1 by Bradford City in front of 9,598 spectators at Prenton Park.
Rovers had taken the lead through Matthew Pennington but had to play the final hour with ten men following the sending off of Junior Brown.
Two second half goals gave the Bantams the win, and results elsewhere meant Rovers would have gone down even had they picked up all three points.
After the final whistle blew, Rovers' fans ran onto the pitch to console the squad. Players, including Max Power were in tears at the loss.
During a press conference after the game, McMahon said: "There are words to describe how I'm feeling, but I can't them say them on camera or tape. I'm devastated really.
"I thought we were a bit edgy to start with, which was going to happen, and approached the game really well.
"We got the goal we needed and until the sending off I felt we were in control. We controlled the tempo like we wanted to.
"They didn't really hurt us, until what happened, happened and changed control of the game.
"My own objective was to keep us in League One, unfortunately that's not happened."
McMahon had made there were three changes to the team that started at Leyton Orient last weekend.
Ian Goodison and Jason Koumas returned from injury to take the places of Danny Holmes and Jake Cassidy.
Goalkeeper Jason Mooney came in for his third start of the season in place of injured Owain Fon Williams.
Bradford started brightly, winning a corner in the first minute after Mooney turned a long range effort from Aaron McLean around the post, and the Rovers keeper saved soon after from Nathan Doyle.
After a spell of possession deep in the Bradford half, Matthew Pennington picked up a loose ball, lifted a shot over Jon McLaughlin which the keeper let through his hands and into the net.
Players and staff from both teams got involved in a scuffle in front of the Bradford dugout around the 25 minute mark and five minutes later McMahon's sqaud were reduced to ten men when Junior Brown was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Nathan Doyle.
McMahon said: "I thought the challenge warranted a yellow card, not a red, and the bench were up in arms calling for Nathan to be sent off.
"I thought the challenge itself looked a lot worse than it was and when the player gets up and continues the game and turns round and winks at me, it tells you the story.
"The reaction between the two benches during this incident was really poor. It's not the professional thing to do."
With a man disadvantage Rovers switched to 4-4-1, with Akpa Akpro moving to a wide left role.
On 31 minutes, McMahon played Max Power into the area and the midfielder skipped past Doyle but his pass for Ryan Lowe was cleared by a defender.
With a man advantage Bradford were dominating the possession and spending much of the time inside the Tranmere half. Adam Drury drilled a back post volley over the Tranmere goal on 54 minutes.
Though Crewe were 2-0 up against Preston, a goal for Oldham against Notts County briefly lifted Rovers out of the bottom four to the delight of the fans inside Prenton Park.
However, less than ten minutes later County equalised from the penalty spot to put Rovers back to 21st.
Lowe went down under a challenge inside the Bradford area on 74 minutes but the referee waved away penalty appeals and seven minutes later the visitors equalised, when Stead's strike from the edge of the area deflected past Mooney and into the bottom left corner.
Rovers had a chance to regain the lead on 84 minutes when Koumas sent Akpa Akpro through on goal but the striker's attempted lob lacked power and McLaughlin gathered inside his six yard box.
And the miss seemed even more pivotal a minute later as Aaron McLean drilled a shot past Mooney from the right side of the penalty area to put the Bantams 1-2 up.
McMahon continued: "I'm full of anger and disappointment for the disappointed fans that came along today, particularly when you see the look on their faces and what it means to them as well. All in all, it's difficult to take, really.
"What's frustrating is the result wasn't in our hands. If it had have been in our hands, maybe we would have approached it differently.
"It's all about experience. How do you gain experience? By seeing good times, and by also seeing bad times.
"The players will take something away from today. It might not have been nice, but it will make them stronger and better equipped for their future.
"I can never knock the players for commitment and passion. I thought those players gave everything they had today. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be."
Click below to see a video of fans running to console the players, sent in by reader John Thompson.