(Reuters) - Fortuna Duesseldorf's poor away form came back to haunt them as they were relegated from the Bundesliga on Saturday after a final-day 3-0 defeat at in-form Union Berlin.
Uwe Rosler's side went into the match knowing victory would guarantee finishing third from bottom and securing the side a relegation playoff against the third team in the second-tier.
Even a draw would have been enough as long as Werder Bremen did not beat Cologne by four clear goals.
But Duesseldorf's day turned into a nightmare.
Union, who had already guaranteed their safety in an impressive first season in the Bundesliga, took the lead when visiting keeper Florian Kastenmeier could not prevent Anthony Ujah's shot crossing the line after 26 minutes.
When Christian Gentner made it 2-0 shortly after halftime and news filtered through that Werder were 5-0 ahead, Duesseldorf's plight became desperate.
They threw bodies forward and created several chances but it was too little too late. When Union's substitute Suleiman Abdullah scored a third in stoppage time, Duesseldorf knew they would be returning to the second tier after only two seasons.
"I'm sorry for our fans and the club. We fought week after week and in the end we didn't manage to get it across the line," Rosler told the club's website.
"I am proud of them because they gave everything. In the end it was not enough."
Sports director Uwe Klein described relegation as a "real blow" but gave his backing to Rosler.
"We want to put together a powerful team for the new season, it will definitely continue with Uwe Rosler," he said.
Werder Bremen ended up winning 6-1 to finish third from bottom with 31 points, while Duesseldorf ended on 30 and are automatically relegated along with SC Paderborn.
Duesseldorf won only two of their 17 away games this season and had the worst away record of all 18 clubs.
Four-time German champions Werder Bremen, ever-present bar one season since the Bundesliga began in 1963, will face arch-rivals Hamburg or Heidenheim in a home-and-away playoff in a bid to avoid their first relegation from the top flight since 1980.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christian Radnedge)