Widnes manager Dave Dempsey couldn’t hide his devastation as his side saw a point slip through their grasp against Warrington Rylands.
Declan Walker’s late header secured an invaluable three points for the promotion-chasing Rylands as they kept on the coattails of league-leaders Marine.
Widnes had to defend a late onslaught a man light after James McCulloch’s second yellow card.
Dempsey explained his feelings after they missed on a point as they sit just three points clear of Prescot Cables – who occupy the relegation play-off position.
“After the game, I was absolutely devastated for my players, we had a game plan and they executed it perfectly,” he told Off The Park.
“The referees added five minutes on and they’ve scored in 97, the manner in which the goal went in was hard to take. It was a ball in the box, he’s got a flick on its come over my centre-half’s head and looped over my goalkeeper that was the only way they were going to score.
“They’ve not really carved us open, few long-range shots that were never going to hurt us, didn’t work my goalkeeper and that was testament to my lads because they were playing a very good side, a side in the league that could deservedly go up this season, but we were brilliant.
“We’ve kept them to very minimal chances dug in deep, created the odd chance, could’ve went 1-0 up in five minutes and we’ve been punished right at the depth.
“It’s fair to say after 96 minutes we were expecting to come in with a point at home to one of the league’s best sides, it would’ve given us some foundations to build on but it wasn’t to be.
“I don’t want to blame officials and I don’t want to sit here and blame one man in the middle for spoiling the game but he’s found five minutes and 97-and-a-half.
“You can’t really sit and blame that because whether it’s 110 minutes or 90 on the dot and you need to play right to the final whistle, I’ve said that to my players, we’ve gone down to 10 men we’ve carried 10 men for 20 to 25 minutes including extra time, we’ve dug in deep and I think we’ve just been caught with a ball into the box we should’ve dealt with but we didn’t and they’re the fine margins at this level where you’re punished.
“Rylands knocked on the door a few times in terms of sustaining pressure in the final third but they never caused us any problems, it was just a ball into the box, I think we’ve dealt with the first but it’s came back in and went over Owen [Wheeler].
“We’re nearly there, we’ll get there we’re a good side, we just need to not concede silly goals, stop getting silly sendings and manage game situations better. We’re certainly not far away.”
Following the late defeat, certain fractions pinpointed the amount of added time down to the time-wasting from goalkeeper Owen Wheeler.
But Dempsey defended his shot-stopper and addressed talk of ‘negative tactics’ against a team 26 points ahead of them in the table.
He added: “Any team you play that are higher up the table we said we’ll slow the game down, we’ll make it harder for Rylands to come and have fluidity, momentum.
“If we play every goal kick, free-kick, throw-in, corner if we do that quickly from the offset then we play into their hands. If you know football and you’re knowledgable you’ve got to play games a certain way, there’s certain times in the season you’ll slow things down and be hard to be but there will also be games we’ll quicken the tempo and play on the front foot.
“Owen wasn’t time-wasting, there’s moments in the game the time wasting’s come in the last 10-15 when we’re down to 10 men we’ve gone out for the win, we’ll always go to win games of football but when you go down to 10 men there’s a different dynamic on the football pitch and sometimes your players have to manage the situation on the football pitch.
“But if you’ve played the game and understand football, you’ll understand my players may have been slower to stop and start the game when we were down to 10 men.
“I’ve seen a people come out saying it was negative tactics and we’ve played for the draw, absolutely weren’t we could’ve been 1-0 up within the first five minutes. Think we had more shots on target, think they had one and that was the goal so we’ve been effective, not negative.
“As a team we’ve sustained their pressure, been hard to break down and played on the counter to the frontmen that’s what we did, let’s be honest it very nearly worked against a team who’ve scored plenty of goals this season. A lot of positives to take from my sides and move on.”
Widnes embark on a must-win match against Newcastle Town as they look to extend the gap from their relegation rivals, but Dempsey remains confident.
“Absolutely [a must win], we’ve had a real hard run of games. I think we’ve played the top six since I’ve come in, you’re looking at the Newcastle game, Market Drayton, Rammy, Colne, Prescot they’re games we need to be going and getting something from.
“I’m more than comfortable my players can do that, we prepare right for every game, we’ll do our homework and the lads will be fully versed in what they have to do. It’s a must-win to a degree but it’s game by game and we’ll do our best to get something.”