Sam Allardyce said the sending off of debutant Callum McNaughton proved pivotal as West Ham United exited the Carling Cup first round at the hands of Aldershot Town.
The manager was firm in his conviction that the Hammers would have built on their one-goal lead at the time McNaughton was dismissed two minutes after the interval for bringing down eventual match-winner Danny Hylton in a goalscoring opportunity. The Shots were buoyed by the extra-man advantage and struck twice in the last 13 minutes to win 2-1 and book a second-round tie with Carlisle United.
"We didn't get our first win because we went down to ten men," said Allardyce. "When you go down to ten men it is difficult to win a game of football. Even if the opposition are not in the same division it gives them a massive lift. We were one-nil up and comfortable and unfortunately a young man who has been given his debut and doing all right, gets caught out and gets sent-off.
"After that they are going to try and push on. We have to try and defend what we have got because we were one-man short and we couldn't hold out in the end. They got the win. It is very disappointing of course but I don't think we would have lost this game if it had stayed eleven v eleven. I think we would have gone on and won it."
Allardyce had no complaints about the red card which was cruel luck on the young central defender on his debut. The manager had rested Robert Green, James Tomkins, Joey O'Brien, Jack Collison, Mark Noble, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole and fielded a new-look side, but it was McNaughton and new recruits George McCartney and John Carew who garnered the most pre-match attention.
"Technically [the referee] has seen it as a goalscoring opportunity and he was the last defender, he has to do what the rules tell him and that is give him a red card. That was a huge disappointment for a young man to be put in that position. He will learn from that."
The manager was positive about the contribution of Junior Stanislas, who scored with a sweet long-range strike on 16 minutes while also acknowledging that the run-out would do McCartney and Carew the world of good for the npower Championship challenge.
"We are not quite as big and strong in depth as people think. Lots of players have left and we are not blessed with lots of players in the squad so the quicker we get them up to match fitness the better."
While elimination is disappointing, Allardyce reminded that the likes of Premier League sides Norwich City, Swansea City, Queen's Park Rangers and Sunderland had all been similarly frustrated this week - and that with a full complement of players. Even then, it was not for the want of trying in the closing stages.
"It is always difficult to play out with ten men. We tried to go for the win in the end by pushing Freddie Sears up top to play with Frank Nouble because we needed to go and try and win the game. I didn't want it to go extra time and we got a chance to sneak a late goal with Matt Taylor but it wasn't to be."
He will hope for better when the Hammers head to Nottingham Forest for a major league meeting on Sunday afternoon searching for a third successive league win.