GARY Caldwell pulled no punches after watching his Wigan Athletic side blow a gilt-edged opportunity to return to Wembley as they crashed out of the JPT on penalties to Barnsley.
Despite Latics going into the game as red-hot favourites, it’s the Tykes - rock bottom of League One - who will face either Fleetwood or Morecambe next month for a place in the final.
Lacklustre Latics had Will Grigg to thank for twice coming from behind in normal time, but their luck ran out in a dramatic shoot-out.
Max Power and Jordan Flores tucked away penalties one and four with aplomb.
But crucial misses in between from ex-Barnsley men Craig Davies and David Perkins left Caldwell to reflect on what might have been.
“It’s a massive disappointment, and I’ve told that to the players,” revealed the Latics boss.
“It’s only when you finish your career that you look back and you see what you’ve won or the big games that you’ve played in.
“Then you realise that cup finals and Wembley don’t come along too often.
“When you’re young, you maybe get to one cup final or win a trophy, and you think it’s going to be like that forever.
“But it’s not. Football is really difficult, and you have to work very hard to achieve things and win things.
“We’ve passed up a big opportunity, but we got what we deserved.
“I didn’t think we deserved to win the game.”
With the possible exception of Grigg, not one of the strong side put out by Caldwell underlined his case for future inclusion.
“If I was a player that played today, I’d be very worried about my place,” acknowledged the Latics chief.
“I’ve said before that if you come in and do well, you’re going to keep the jersey.
“All the players who played will be worried, and they’ll have to come in on Monday and work hard to put it right.”
Caldwell was also ‘disappointed’ with the response from his players when it came to putting up their hands to take a penalty with the pressure on.
“I’ve obviously spoken about this before, because I’ve missed a penalty for this club in a shoot-out,” added Caldwell, referring to his unsuccessful effort in the 2014 FA Cup semi-final shoot-out against Arsenal.
“You don’t often get five players that want to take a penalty.
“That’s why players like myself end up having to take them sometimes.
“Again today we didn’t have five who were keen to take a penalty. That’s a little bit disappointing.
“The ones that did manned up, they stood up.
“The ones that missed, I put no blame on them.”