Graham Barrow reckoned Wigan Athletic ‘wasted’ a great chance to give themselves a survival lifeline in going down 2-1 at Newcastle.
Latics pushed the league leaders all the way at St James’ Park, despite trailing at the interval to a Dwight Gayle strike.
Michael Jacobs equalised at the beginning of the second period, and the visitors squandered a couple of gilt-edged opportunities to take the lead before a somewhat fortuitous effort from Matt Ritchie proved to be the winner just before the hour mark.
The result leaves Latics seven points adrift of safety with only seven games now remaining, but there was certainly a far more positive outlook in the aftermath than in recent weeks and months.
“I was very proud of the players,” acknowledged the Latics interim boss. “Since I took over I’ve had a good period to work with them, over the international break, and I thought it showed in the performance.
“I thought at 1-1 we were in with a big chance, but they got the rub of the green with the second goal - and they took full advantage.
“It’s the kind of goal you do get when you’re top of the league - the kind we were getting towards the end of last season.
“I was pleased with how things went up to a point, but obviously in the position we’re in it’s not enough.
“But while we can play like that we’re in with a chance.”
Barrow made a double change at the interval in sending on Alex Gilbey and Ryan Colclough for Sam Morsy and Omar Bogle, and the new-boys did their bit in helping Latics to seize the initiative.
“Things went against us with Omar being injured, but I thought Ryan came on and did well,” Barrow recognised.
“We couldn’t have opened up completely because obviously Newcastle - with the players they had on the bench - would have hurt us with their pace.
“We had to keep it tight, but at 1-1 I felt we could have won it, and there could have been a happy ending.
“We created a couple of good situations but we wasted them, if I’m being brutally honest.
“I don’t know if that’s me being biased, but we were getting into good situations.
“It’s all ifs,buts and maybes - and that’s part and parcel of football.
“That’s probably happened a few too many times this season.
“The support was great, the players were great, and it’s just the result that’s gone against us.
“We have to strive to maintain that level of performance for the rest of the season.”
The result cemented Newcastle’s position at the top of the table, and Barrow admits it’s only a matter of time before the Toon army are back in the top flight.
“They’ve got that little bit about them,” he conceded.
“The teams at the top just have that bit of quality that sets them apart.
“It’s that persistence from the first minute to the last, and it enables them to unlock the door.
“I know they’ve been under a little bit of pressure, and that’s what we were hoping to take advantage of here.
“But in fairness they stood up to it.”
Barrow also laughed off the second-half incident when, after Ritchie tumbled to the ground in an attempt to win a penalty, there was finger-pointing aplenty in the technical areas.
“It was just a heat-of-the-moment thing really,” smiled Barrow. “They thought it was a penalty, I thought he dived, but I’ve not got great eyesight to be fair.
“We shook hands after the game, there were no problems there.”