STUNNED silence greeted the final whistle at Bootham Crescent.
York City fans quietly filed out from the David Longhurst stand behind the goal knowing full well that this was not the time to vent their spleen on the manager or players who had gone so close to avoiding the embarrassment of the club playing regional football next season.
Gary Mills did not take over until mid-October and it took him until January to build his own squad.
Since then, a run which has brought 29 points from 20 games would have seen them comfortably in mid-table had it been replicated prior to his return.
However, the man who led York to two Wembley finals and promotion back into the Football League in 2012 was left with an onerous task.
Around 50 fans decided to blame relegation on chairman Jason McGill as they protested outside the main stand.
I’m devastated. We got a draw and after 90 minutes in the other game (Guiseley v Solihull Moors)that was enough but those small margins have ultimately cost us.Jon Parkin
Had it not been for the McGill family, though, York would have had difficulty in staying financially afloat over recent years.
However, McGill did recruit Jackie McNamara as manager and bizarrely appointed him as chief executive a week after allowing him to step down from the helm with York in 19th after dropping out of the Football League under him.
Back-to-back relegations have hurt everyone but Mills was anxious to avoid recriminations after being left with the task of picking up the players for the FA Trophy final against Macclesfield Town at Wembley on May 21.
So, too, was the striker brought back to Bootham to provide the fire-power to keep them up.
On Saturday, Jon Parkin scored his 12th and 13th league goals of the campaign for York against one of his former clubs, equalising a brace of first-half strikes from German Omar Bugiel, but Guiseley hit a late equaliser in their final match of the campaign to beat the drop by a point.
Parkin, the 35-year-old Barnsley-born striker, somewhat unfairly labelled ‘The Beast’ which belies a touch of finese allied to power for such a hulking figure, featured for York from 2002 to 2004 and answered Mills’s call to arms last November.
He did his job but, like the manager and the rest of the squad, does not know if it will be enough to earn the opportunity to help York bounce straight back up.
“I’m devastated. We got a draw and after 90 minutes in the other game (Guiseley v Solihull Moors)that was enough but those small margins have ultimately cost us.
“This game meant everything. It was one of the biggest of my career, comfortably. We fell short so we are massively disappointed.
“My job was to come in and score the goals to keep us in the division. Ultimately, I have failed,” said the much-travelled frontman, revealing survival would have meant a contract extension for next season.
“This football club shouldn’t even be in this league never mind a step below. It’s all right saying it is a big football club but wherever you finish after 46 games it is where you are at.”
Regarding his manager, Parkin continued: “The gaffer is brilliant. He has taken the pressure off the players and I can’t speak highly enough of him. I don’t know what will happen but I would like to work under him again.
“There is pressure but once you get over the white line you forget about it. I don’t think anyone has buckled under pressure. I think to a man everyone has given everything.”
Regarding the protest against McGill, he added: “I don’t know everything that goes off at the club but I can imagine that it would have been in a hell of a lot of a worse situation if the chairman had not been here.
“I sat in this very room the last time I was here when we got told we were not getting paid. That’s pressure when lads have got mortgages and stuff that they can’t pay, it’s not going out to perform on a football pitch.”
If the current group of players are going to sign off – Mills is anxious they do not go down the semi-professional route – then Wembley is the best place to do it, believes Parkin.
“We have a few days off to lick our wounds and then we will come in to prepare to win a game at Wembley. It’s as simple as that really. We have to look at it as the start of a new era but it would have been much better if we had been going there having clinched safety.”
Mills, sticking his head above the parapet while others ducked down, spent a good half-hour fielding questions after the game.
“I’m not going to hide. I am the manager and I am proud to be,” said the former Nottingham Forest European Cup winner.
“I have never worked as hard in my life to turn things around and I came within a whisker of doing so. I am devastated because I take pride in what I do and for everyone connected with the club. The players have been a credit since the turn of the new year.
“I want to take my club to Wembley and be proud and bounce back. You can’t hide behind where we are and what’s happened. But I told them before the game: ‘Whatever goes on today I can not ask any more of you lot. You have given everything on and off the field.’ I’m devastated for this group of players.”
York City: Loach, Parslow, Bencherif, Newton; Holmes, Hall (Fenwick 89), Heslop, Muggleton; Oliver, Parkin, Morgan-Smith (Connolly 89). Unused substitutes: Klukowski, Letheren, Moke.
Forest Green Rovers: Russell,Bennett (Mehew 72), Ellis, Monthe, Wishart; Marsh-Brown (Kelly 60), Noble, Traore (Tilt 60), Robert; Bugiel; Mullings. Unused substitutes: Cooper, Lefebvre.
Referee: T Bramall (Sheffield).