Nigel Adkins, the Sheffield United manager, refused to concede defeat in the battle for play-off qualification despite watching Rochdale dent his team’s hopes of securing a top six finish.
But Adkins, who described the 2-0 scoreline as an injustice, admitted he was at a loss to explain why United failed to convert any of the opportunities which came their way before being hit by two second-half sucker punches.
United, the pre-season title favourites, enter tomorrow’s game against Burton Albion 10th in the table after substitutes Peter Vincenti and Grant Holt propelled Keith Hill’s side to their first ever victory over the visitors from South Yorkshire.
“We’ve got to keep believing,” Adkins said. “On another day, we could have gone in at half-time with a comfortable scoreline. But we didn’t.
“Give Rochdale credit, they’ve hung in there. It’s annoying but we’ve gone and lost a game we should have won.”
“We were dominant,” Adkins added. “We got ourselves on the front foot and had an energy about ourselves.
“Even second-half, we started brightly. Their goal was probably the first chance they had. There was an energy about ourselves but they scored. I can’t explain it any more than that.
“We played well. I don’t think anyone can deny that. We were assertive but, as I always say, it’s about sticking them in at one end and keeping them out at the other.”
Hill claimed the “game-management” of his players had proved decisive as Rochdale survived a first-half onslaught before changing both their personnel and shape during the break.
Adkins, revealing Martyn Woolford is a doubt for the meeting with Albion after “taking a nasty blow” to his leg, disagreed having labelled the performance of Hill’s goalkeeper Josh Lillis as “inspired” with Florent Cuvelier, Billy Sharp and Che Adams all denied by the 28-year-old.
“He’s an excellent goalkeeper,” Adkins said. “He did excellent in the first game we played, at Bramall Lane, too. And he had to be because of the chances we created.
“We were on it, but that’s what it’s all about. Taking your chances when you are on top like that.
“There was some inspired goalkeeping but it’s about making the most of them and winning. Pure and simple. I’m sure the people who came to watch us will agree they saw an excellent performance. But it was Rochdale who won.”