Warren Joyce admitted Wigan Athletic signed off for 2016 with a feeling of ‘disappointment’ not to have picked up a desperately-needed victory at Derby.
Most neutrals and ‘experts’ would have had the fixture down as a home banker, given Derby’s impressive recent form and Wigan’s five-game losing streak.
But the visitors had the better of an entertaining goalless draw, with Will Grigg hitting a post and seeing another effort brilliantly saved by former Wigan goalkeeper Scott Carson in a one-sided first half.
The second period was more about holding on in the face of increasing Derby pressure, but Latics certainly gave a favourable overall account of themselves against a side tipped to win promotion back to the Premier League.
“We’re disappointed really not to capitalise on the chances we created in the first half,” Joyce acknowledged.
“I think that’s credit to the players, the way they’ve dusted themselves down this week.
“They’ve got a lot of pride in themselves and the football club, and they want to do their best for the fans to stay in this league, after working so hard last year to get here.
“They’ve shown resilience, and they’ve shown they’ve got no inferiority complex, to come here against a top side like Derby and compete.”
The performance was certainly a million times better than the dismal offering at Rotherham on Boxing Day, when Latics couldn’t recover from a car-crash first half which saw them go into the break three goals down and unable to recover.
Midfielder Shaun MacDonald, back from injury in place of striker Craig Davies, certainly ensured the side had far more of a balanced look to it.
“I don’t think we can be arrogant enough to think we can go to somewhere like Rotherham and pass them off the pitch, without rolling up our sleeves and competing for second balls,” Joyce recognised.
“The format of the team we put out mean it is difficult for the forwards here.
“We’re not the best playing with two up front, with the personnel we’ve got. It is difficult.
“I think we’ve looked better in the games where we’ve played 4-3-3, in a shape.
“Rotherham was a situation that was forced upon us, with the injuries we had we couldn’t do much different.
“We’ve proved better tactically against the better sides, when we’ve played a different way.”
With a bit more luck in front of goal, Latics could even have been returning north with three precious points.
“We’ve created some good chances and we’re disappointed, but that’s the hardest thing to do on a football field - score goals,” the Latics boss added.
“You would never criticise someone for not putting chances away.
“It’s better we’re creating them than not, and we know we’ve got to be more ruthless in front of goal, to make it a lot easier to manage games.
“Certainly it would have been a sickener to have come in if we’d lost a goal at the end, after the ones we’d missed early doors.
“Today we’re disappointed we haven’t won, but we’re pleased with the performance and the intelligence we’ve shown tactically.
“There’s still times we could be a little bit more composed and a little bit better with the decision-making and the final ball.
“If you look at the last five or six games, we certainly could have scored two or three goals in nearly every game.”