FC CLACTON manager Tom Austin said he could not be prouder of his players after their stirring performance against runaway Thurlow Nunn League leaders Histon.

The Seasiders eventually succumbed to a 2-1 defeat – conceding from virtually the last kick of the game – but pushed the premier division pacesetters all the way at the Rush Green Bowl on Tuesday night.

They were desperately unlucky to finish empty-handed, having dominated the second half and missed numerous chances to build on Adam Hampson’s equaliser.

“I’m gutted - absolutely devastated,” Austin told the Gazette.

“I can’t remember Histon having a clear-cut chance in the second half and even their winner should have been disallowed, for a foul on Jack Clampin.

“We missed two open goals and two or three other very good chances - and that’s against the side running away with our league.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the boys, especially when you consider we were missing four centre-halves.

“Histon are top for a reason – they put the ball in good areas and are effective from set-pieces. It works for them.

“But my boys didn’t deserve to lose.

“I’d have taken a point before the game but don’t know how we didn’t get all three.

“If you don’t take your chances, you get punished.

“That’s what happened but on another day we could have won 5-1 or 5-2.”

While deflated by the score, Austin is confident his side are heading in the right direction.

They won 2-1 at Haverhill Rovers last weekend, thanks to goals from Karl Andrade, from the penalty spot, and Hampson, and will hope to continue their strong form when they head to Ely City on Saturday.

“It shows our progress, despite being a bit depleted at the moment, and the score didn’t reflect the game,” said Austin.

“It was probably the cruellest result I’ve ever been involved in.

“(Goalkeeper) Joe (Fowler) only had to punch out their corners and throws.

"He didn’t have a save to make.

"It’s so deflating but we’re building something here.

“The players have just got to stick with it.

“Look what we’ve achieved in a season and how our expectation levels have changed.

“We’re competing with all the top sides and if we keep going in the right direction, we can really do something in this league.

“Our front three are unplayable at times and, at some point soon, someone will get a battering.”

Austin admits he is down to “bare bones” for Saturday’s trip to Cambridgeshire, which is followed by a home match against Haverhill next Tuesday.

Adam Daniels picked up an injury and had to be replaced at half-time, making him doubtful for the weekend.

Kyelan Marvell, Ollie Lamb, Wayne Chapman and James Gregory are also injured while Clampin and keeper Joe Fowler are both unavailable.

Young Tom Wood will deputise between the posts.