Warren Joyce was left to bemoan a ‘stonewall free-kick’ he believes Wigan Athletic should have been awarded in the lead-up to Aston Villa’s winning goal that settled a dour encounter in the Midlands.
Jack Grealish was the Villa hero with a quite magnificent right-foot shot with only two minutes to go that flew past Jussi Jaaskelainen into the top corner of the net.
But Joyce was adamant referee James Linington should have whistled moments earlier for a ‘clear foul’ on Shaun MacDonald that would have ensured honours ended even.
“It was a great strike, and they’ve obviously spent a lot of money on players who’ve got a high level of skill,” acknowledged Joyce.
“I’m just disappointed because I thought there was a clear foul on Shaun in the build-up.
“It was a stonewall free-kick, so that’s another fine margin, and it’s those that make it more difficult to take.
“Yes, it’s an unbelievable bit of individual skill that’s done for us, but I still think it was avoidable.
“But those are the split-second decisions you make late on in football matches, when you’re tired.
“You’re trying to shepherd him one way, you don’t want to be shepherding him on to his right foot, towards goal, but it’s fine margins.”
The defeat was Wigan’s first on the road in six matches, and Joyce was far from downbeat.
“The only thing I can do now is look at the positives,” the Latics chief recognised.
“We’ve come here, we’ve more than given them a run for their money, we’ve stopped their flair players from ripping us open.
“If I’m standing here and we’d had no way of stopping them ripping us apart and bombarding us, then fine.
“But our goalkeeper’s not had to make a save during the game.
“I thought we weathered everything they threw at us, we dealt with it well, we were well-organised, we had a game-plan, and I actually thought we played some slick football.
“It wasn’t just on the counter-attack - some of the football, one and two-touch, was very slick, we played between their lines and I actually could see us scoring.
“I think we’ve come here and really given them a run for their money.
“Anybody who’s watched the game will see we gave the fans something to shout about.
“Certainly there were tackles, headers, players putting their bodies on the line, clever football, running power...that was all evident in the game.
“And I actually thought we could have sneaked it in that second half.
“There were spells when we were cutting through them, when they had a lot of players high up the pitch, and it opened the door for us.”
Joyce once more opted for Yanic Wildschut in a lone striking role, meaning last season’s 29-goal top scorer Will Grigg again having to sit on the bench until the very last minute - after Villa had taken the lead.
Bizarrely, Dan Burn was also sent on as an emergency centre-forward, with Joyce hoping his 6’8 frame might cause havoc in stoppage-time.
“If you look at him, and we were laughing about it this week, he’s got something you just can’t compete against, he’s that big,” Joyce revealed.
“You throw balls into the box, you’re just chasing your tail in the last minute.
“It nearly worked as well, there were two or three opportunities where the ball’s just dropped down, from his headers.
“That was the last roll of the dice, but it very nearly worked.”
Joyce admitted he’d decided against sending on Grigg - or fellow striking substitutes Adam Le Fondre and Craig Davies - earlier for fear of losing the point Latics were looking like winning.
“They were throwing on so many strikers that the game was really in danger of opening up,” the 51-year-old added.
“Obviously the way Yanic was playing, he still looked full of running, and we we were just pondering that (a substitution) at the time (of the goal) really.
“I still felt we looked like scoring.”