A DEVASTATED Aaron Nell thanked Swindon Wildcats’ players, staff and fans last night after they were dumped out of the NIHL regional play-offs by Bracknell Bees.

Bees won the hotly contested semi-final second leg 3-6 at the Link Centre on Sunday night – 5-8 on aggregate – to deny Cats not only a place in the regional final but also national finals weekend at Coventry on Saturday week.

Cats’ cause wasn’t helped after Nell picked up a knock to his knee in the game’s middle 20, prompting his withdrawal from the semi final’s final period.

Nell said: “I’m devastated for the players and staff, and of course the fans.

“We must congratulate Bracknell, both games were the hardest we have been a part of in two years.

“Both teams were fully committed, there is always going to be a winner and a loser – and unfortunately that was us tonight.

“We had a bad start, but I can’t fault the players at all.

“We’ve had a great year, I’m just really sad for the players.”

Tonight's game started in disastrous fashion for Wildcats, who quickly found themselves two goals behind as Ryan Sutton and Aidan Doughty found a way past home ‘keeper Renny Marr.

A series of penalties against Bracknell paved the way for Aaron Nell’s side to reduce their two-goal aggregate deficit.

Jonas Hoog skilfully found a way past the Bees’ netminder with 13 minutes played to bring Wildcats to within a goal of their opponents.

But the Bees stretched their aggregate lead to two once more. Sloppy defensive work enabled Tyler VanKleef to beat a wall of bodies and net Bees’ third, earning them a 5-3 lead on aggregate at the end of the first period.

Bracknell’s two-goal lead remained intact for the end of the second period, albeit they had to register a third goal after Hoog netted his second marker of the night.

Once again on the powerplay, Wildcats’ prolific forward reduced the gap between themselves and Bracknell to a goal.

But a case of déjà vu struck when Bees’ Roman Malinek scored a powerplay goal with five minutes remaining in the second period.

Not helped by Aaron Nell’s absence in the third period due to injury, all appeared to be lost as far as Cats’ play-off final hopes were concerned when Shaun Thompson hit Bracknell’s fifth at 43.19.

Thompson’s strike put Nell’s troops three goals behind on aggregate.

But the home side failed to back down, and were boosted when Sam Jones struck at 46.43 to reduce Bees' lead to two once more.

That proved to be the end of the scoring though, as Bracknell booked their spot in the regional final.