Michael Duff thought Mads Andersen’s early red card was ‘harsh’ but admitted his Barnsley side ‘weren’t at the races’ in their 3-0 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers on Monday.
The visitors took the lead in the 11th minute from the penalty spot after home captain Andersen had been sent off. He tripped Dion Charles and the referee judged he had not attempted to play the ball.
Duff told the Chronicle: “I thought it was a harsh decision. We didn’t argue with the penalty, but I think there’s an attempt to play the ball. There has to be no attempt to play the ball to send him off.
"Decisions and penalties haven’t been our best friends in the last few games. I don’t think we’ve had a penalty in the league all season. We haven’t been falling on the right side of those decisions.”
Defender Jordan Williams added: "It’s a tough thing to happen so early on. But we dug deep and tried hard and stuck together. But it’s a tough result to take."
The head coach was disappointed with his team’s start to the game as, even before the penalty, Charles had missed two good chances.
“Referee aside, for the first ten minutes we weren’t at it. Too many wrong decisions, too many stray passes, too many people off it. We didn’t quite look at the races. We’re honest and humble enough to not hide behind the referee. When it was 11 v 11, we weren’t good enough.”
Barnsley had appeared to have settled down but Robbie Cundy lost the ball on the edge of his box just before the break and the hosts made it 2-0.
“I thought the reaction (to the penalty) was brilliant. We looked pretty comfortable then we gifted them a goal from absolutely nothing.
“It was a calamity. We haven’t had a moment like that all season. They come around every now and again.
“It’s frustrating because we could have got them in and just tweaked a couple of things. At 1-0 they (Bolton) could have got a little bit squeaky.”
Williams added: "It’s part and parcel of the game. Everyone makes mistakes and it's unlucky it led to a goal. But we stuck together and tried to grind it out. We put them under pressure in the first 20 minutes of the second half but it just wasn’t meant to be."
Duff was pleased with the way his side kept going despite the poor start.
“The reaction after half-time was really good and were had a go for 20 minutes. The crowd were good and came with us. Then fatigue kicks in and the five players they bring on are just as good as the five they take off.
“In reality they have had three shots on target and scored three goals. One is a penalty and one is a gift from us. And we played 80-odd minutes with ten men.
“There was no one swinging their arms around trying to apportion blame. They stuck together and worked hard. You won’t always have it your own way. You’re not in control of everything. But the things they are in control of like sticking together, working hard, keeping their shape and being determined they kept doing until the last minute.”
The result ended an unbeaten run of seven league games, including six victories.
Duff said: "We were unbeaten in more than two months. It’s a disappointing day but we will park it up and move on. There was a different feeling after Wycombe (the last league 3-0 loss at Oakwell in August) in the dressing room. I was booting skips and digging people out.
"That wasn’t the case today. The players gave us everything. People will look at the scoreline and say ‘you’ve been battered’. It is not the case at all. To have only conceded three shots on target playing 80 minutes with ten men speaks volumes for their work ethic and effort.”
Adam Phillips missed the game with an ankle injury. Duff said: “He got a whack against Fleetwood which is why he came off. It blew up over the last couple of days. It’s just a kick so hopefully, if he’s not ready for Derby, I imagine he will be back for the Charlton game.”