Manager Paul Hurst could not hide his disappointment after a 3-2 defeat at Exeter condemned Grimsby to relegation from Sky Bet League Two.
The Grecians went in front when Luke Waterfall put through his own goal, but Lenell John-Lewis levelled things up with a penalty just before half-time.
Jay Matete put the Mariners in front but was sent off three minutes later after a high tackle on Archie Collins. That gave Exeter the initiative and they equalised through Alex Fisher before Ryan Bowman’s 89th-minute winner.
The drama did not end there, with Grimsby assistant Chris Doig sent off for rowing with the referee after the final whistle to end their five-year stint back in the Football League.
“Obviously it is something that you don’t want to experience,” Hurst said. “It is very quiet in the dressing room, as you would expect. We’ve said a few things that I think needed to be said.
“There is a frustration about tonight in terms of not being able to take it into Saturday at least and stay in with a fighting chance.
“I thought the referee was poor. I’ve watched the red card back, it was a foul that was it, not even a yellow card.
“He ducked his head and it’s not a red card. Who knows what the game would have panned out like, but it certainly didn’t help.
“The team that have represented us more recently doesn’t deserve what the outcome has been. But unfortunately, it is over a season and that is why we are where we are.”
The win keeps Exeter’s slim play-off hopes alive and they head to Bolton this weekend knowing that, realistically, they must win – and then beat Barrow – to stand any chance of a top-seven finish.
“I was pleased with the way we were playing in the first half,” boss Matt Taylor said. “We looked more like our old selves.
“We had a poor spell going into half-time that led to their goal, but I just said to them to not let that five minutes affect how you feel going into the second half because for 40 minutes of the half we were OK and much better than we have been recently.
“I was so disappointed to go behind because the goal was so preventable, but playing against 10 men, we added some quality onto the effort we have showed recently and got the result.
“I think we will need two wins now, without a shadow of a doubt. But it can change in an instant.
“Tonight was a big one and we go to Bolton now, who are one of the best teams in the league, with some momentum.
“We can play better than we did tonight and we will have to show that on Saturday.”