IT was play-off final heartbreak for Chelmsford City as they threw away a lead against 10-man Ebbsfleet United to miss out on promotion to the National League.
The Clarets had taken the lead in Kent, with Bagasan Graham netting after Antony Cook was shown a red card shortly before half-time.
But two goals in four minutes from Dave Winfield and Darren McQueen saw Fleet bounce back from final defeat last year to win.
Chelmsford had beaten Dartford over two legs to book their place in the final, although were underdogs against Fleet, who narrowly missed out on the league title to Maidenhead United.
After a tight opening, Robbie Willmott sent a corner to the far post and Mark Haines was only kept out by Nathan Ashmore’s excellent save.
It was a first-half of few chances, but Rod Stringer’s team were handed a huge boost shortly before the interval when a reckless challenge on Josh Rees by former Claret Cook saw a straight red card issued.
Chris Dickson should have scored the opening goal of the match in the opening five minutes of the second period but his strike was again pushed aside by Ashmore.
Away goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons had been largely untroubled up to this point, although Sam Deering’s long range effort brought a flying save out of him.
But Chelmsford were to take the lead on 55 minutes, and it was an excellent individual effort.
Graham burst forward, and fizzed a drive beyond the despairing dive of Ashmore.
Fleet rallied, and a quick-fire double make all the difference.
First, on 72 minutes, Winfield finally made the most of another set-piece to head beyond Fitzsimons.
And then a low cross was diverted in by a sliding McQueen.
Stringer threw on Luke Daley and Anthony Church late on but the equaliser was not forthcoming.
Chelmsford City: Fitzsimons, Haines, Graham (Buchanan 88’), Porter, Bush, Spillane, Willmott, Rees (Church 83’), Theophanous, Dickson, Jeffers (Daley 83’)