GARETH AINSWORTH has admitted that the “better team won” after his Wycombe Wanderers side came up short against Sunderland in the League One play-off final at Wembley.

Wycombe’s promotion hopes evaporated as they were beaten by the Black Cats, with goals from Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart ensuring the Chairboys would not be making an immediate return to the Championship following their relegation last season.

Ainsworth’s side were blown away by their opponents in the early stages, but having fallen behind in the 12th minute, they rallied either side of half-time and came close to equalising when Sam Vokes broke clear, only for his shot to be smothered by Sunderland goalkeeper Anthony Patterson.

Stewart’s strike with 11 minutes remaining settled things, with Ainsworth admitting there were no hard luck stories come the final whistle.

“I’m gutted for the boys, but I’m going to say we were beaten by the better team,” said the Wycombe boss. “They definitely had the spoils early on, and went 1-0 up. Then, I thought it was close and they had a nervy moment in the second half, but then the second goal kills it off.

“Unfortunately, on the big occasion, Sunderland were the better side. That happens. We’re going to have to take it on the chin and prepare for next year.

“Alex Neil has done a really fantastic job, they’re a huge club, probably the biggest outside the Premier League, and they deserve to be in the Championship.”

Despite his side’s defeat, Ainsworth was proud of the way his players finished in the play-off places with 83 points to their name.

Wycombe might not be the most glamorous club in the Football League, but they have made major strides in the last few seasons, with their manager confident they will dust themselves down to challenge for promotion again next term.

“We keep upsetting the odds and upsetting the pundits,” he said. “We’re a strong squad. We’ve got the best squad I’ve had at Wycombe and we’ll build resilience from this. I’m so proud we’ve amassed 83 points in League One this season.

“Eight years ago, we survived at Torquay to stop us going into the National League and Sunderland finished 16th in the Premier League. The progress this side has made is phenomenal and to see 23,000 Wycombe people today makes me so proud. We’ll be back here, and we’ll have learned.”