Manager Garry Wilson saw Eastbourne Borough suffer heartbreak in the Conference north-south play-off final and said: "We've only got ourselves to blame."

Borough missed out on promotion to the Conference National after losing against Altrincham at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium yesterday.

Borough suffered stage fright as they struggled to recreate the form which helped them surpass expectations to beat Thurrock and Cambridge City on the way to winning the Conference south final.

Two goals in three minutes early in the second half by Rod Thornley and Val Owen put Altrincham in control before Borough rallied and pulled one back in the last minute through a Scott Ramsay penalty.

Wilson, who has masterminded Borough's meteoric rise from the County League, said: "We didn't get going for the first hour and when we finally did it was too late. We looked nervous in everything we did and only started to relax when we were 2-0 down.

"You never know how the players are going to react and unfortunately we didn't really play.

"It was bitterly disappointing because we have been fantastic all season. There can be no complaints because we've only got ourselves to blame."

Assistant boss Nick Greenwood added: "It was a case of what might have been. If we had played like we did against Cambridge then there is no doubt we would have won.

"We didn't really do ourselves justice which was the frustrating part. But you can't have a go at the players because they have been fantastic all season just to get as far as they did."

After being welcomed onto the pitch by a firework display, Borough could have been ahead after just 42 seconds.

Andy Atkin, who was playing County League football with Eastbourne Town a month ago, had a header from a Danny Simmonds free-kick tipped onto the crossbar by keeper Stuart Coburn.

But it was all Altrincham after that and they squandered a hat-trick of chances to take the lead before the break.

Winger Colin Potts had a free header parried by Lee Hook on 12 minutes before Gary Scott somehow blasted over from ten yards after being left completely unmarked by ball-watching Borough defenders.

The Altrincham fans, who were easily outnumbered by the travelling Borough support, thought prolific striker Colin Little had scored his 39th goal of the season on 20 minutes when he tapped the ball into an empty net but the effort was rightfully ruled out for offside.

Alrincham finally made the breakthrough seven minutes into the second half after Borough were caught napping at a quickly taken corner by Scott.

It found Potts unmarked on the edge of the box and his shot was deflected into the path of Thornley, who swivelled and blasted past Hook from eight yards.

Borough almost responded immediately when Matt Smart had a volley saved at full-length by Coburn.

But just as it looked like Wilson's side were getting back in the game, they paid the price for another lapse in concentration at the back on 55 minutes.

They failed to pick up Little at another short-corner by Scott and the striker's cross was met by a downward header by Owen which Hook got a hand to but could not prevent bouncing into his top corner.

Borough dominated possession after the double set-back and twice went close to pulling one back before Ramsay's late goal. Smart had an angled shot bravely deflected wide by Mark Maddox on 68 minutes, then substitute Loui Fazakerley had a header pushed onto the bar by Coburn from Ben Austin's deep cross.

Ramsay gave the Borough fans something to shout about in the final minute with a coolly taken penalty after Yemi Odubade was tripped by Maddox.

Smart had the chance to force the game into extra time in the dying stages when the ball fell kindly to him 20 yards out but, like Borough as a whole, he lacked composure as he skied his shot into the stand.

Wilson said: "Maybe it was not meant to be. We were not really meant to be here in the first place, we should be a mid-table side really.

"There is still a lot of work to be done and we will now start getting ready for next season.

"There will probably be added pressure on us after this but even if we do finish mid-table it will be a good achievement because we have not been playing at this level for long."

Eastbourne Borough: Hook, Chapman, Tuck, Playford (Fazakerley 73), Austin, Simmonds, Smart, Atkin (Williams 85), Crabb (Rowland 49), Odubade, Ramsay. Subs not used: Smith, Lightwood.

Altrincham: Coburn, Apinall (Chalmers 63), Adams, Maddox, Talbot (Lugsden 73), Hussin, Potts (Melling 81), Owen, Little, Thornley, Scott. Subs not used: Acton, Mitten.

Booked: Adams (34) foul, Owen (47) foul, Hussin (65) foul.

Referee: I. Scarr.

Attendance: 2,835.

Man-of-the-match: Matt Smart.