Michael Duff said losing in the 123rd minute to Sheffield Wednesday in the League One play-off final was ‘the cruellest way I have ever been beaten.’

Josh Windass headed home with almost the final touch of the match, which had looked likely to go to penalties at Wembley.

Barnsley had played for 70 minutes with ten men after a red card to Adam Phillips then lost 1-0.

Duff told the Chronicle: “I am very proud of the players but gutted for them. It is the cruellest way I have ever been beaten and I am 45 so I have been beaten quite a lot.

“It’s a cruel game, frustration is the overriding emotion again. The players gave us absolutely everything today which is all you can ask. Walking into an arena like this, there will obviously be regrets but one of them are their’s. They did everything they could.

“There is no guarantee we would have won the penalty shoot-out but that would have been a fairer way to lose if there is one. There are lots of tears. They are a young group and sometimes in football you have to learn the hard way.”

Phillips was sent off five minutes after half-time for a tackle on Lee Gregory, who had clearly tripped Liam Kitching in the box minutes earlier but no penalty was given.

On Phillips’ challenge, Duff said: “I thought it was a booking. It was a mistimed tackle but I don’t think there is any malice in it. I don’t think there is intent to hurt the player it. It’s disappointing.

“We have not had a penalty all season and to not get a penalty we believe is a penalty in the biggest game of all is a real bugbear. You would have thought it would be eradicated by VAR.

“We have felt aggrieved with a lot this year and you wanted it to be the best team wins. But football is not fair.

“I have not seen any incidents back but I have enough messages on my phone to tell me that in other people’s opinion they were the wrong decisions. I spoke to Jobi (McAnuff) and Clinton Morrison (the Sky pundits) and they both said it was penalty and it wasn’t a red card. That adds to the frustration.”

On the game in general, Duff said: “The first half was pretty turgid. They made it horrible, went back to front and we got sucked into that. But we believed that the longer the game went on we were getting stronger. We played 70 minutes with ten men and it was their players who were going down with cramp. With 11 men we believe we would have grown into the game. We still hit the crossbar and Luca (Connelll) had an unbelievable chance.

“You have to give Wednesday credit. It’s not all about the referee and ‘poor old us’. Over the season they probably deserved to go up. They were the third best team in the league. Darren has done a brilliant job, 96 points. But I don’t think they were the best team today.”

About 23,000 Barnsley fans produced superb backing for their team.

Duff said: “The fans were outnumbered two to one, the players were outnumbered for 70 minutes. But both groups gave everything. The reception the players got at the end was a real sign of how far the football club has come in the last ten months.”