ACCRINGTON and District League champions Knuzden suffered penalty heartbreak last weekend as their bid to reach the Tesco Under-13 National Cup Final ended at the final hurdle.
In a fiercely competitive final in Manchester, Knuzden matched Staffordshire opponents Harpfield all the way and the game finished 1-1 only for the Lancastrians to suffer the agony of losing 5-3 on spot kicks.
Knuzden had earlier romped into the last two - progressing from the group stages with an unbeaten record.
And despite missing out on the National Final, manager Derek Slater was full of praise for his talented youngsters.
"It was heartbreaking for the lads but I'm very proud of them every time they play - they are the best I've worked with in 15 years," he said. "It didn't go our way in the end but we were very close. They did the whole of Lancashire proud and especially me."
Despite being beaten in the Lancashire County Cup final back in January, Knuzden were handed a last-gasp reprieve and qualified for last Sunday's Northern Final after original victors Moston Brook were thrown out of the competition after crowd trouble marred the penalty shoot-out win.
And Slater added: "The lads all got abused in the regional final shoot-out and credit to the Lancashire FA and Tesco for throwing them out and putting us through to the final.
"The lads have showed real character to come back from that and we were a penalty away from the English final."
Striker Marcus Carver was the Knuzden star picking up the much-coveted Player of the Tournament award. And former Blackburn Rovers striker Frank Stapleton - who was watching from the sidelines - believes the 13-year-old Norden School pupil has all the raw ingredients to make it all the way to the top.
"Marcus was pointed out to me as a clever little player and it was easy to see why," said former Republic of Ireland international Stapleton.
"He could see a pass and had a terrific eye for goal - it's great to see kids playing the game the right way and Marcus certainly does that. If he continues to perform like that I'm sure he will be getting even more attention."