Cambridge boss Colin Calderwood was left yearning for VAR as he claimed everyone except the officials knew Walsall’s opening goal was a handball as the U’s lost 2-1 to the struggling Saddlers.
Josh Gordon bundled home the opener after just 49 seconds and Mat Sadler’s header quickly doubled the lead as Walsall snapped a six-game losing streak in League Two.
Sam Smith hit the post with a header for Cambridge, who pulled a goal back in second-half stoppage-time through Harvey Knibbs’ cool finish, but it was Gordon’s early effort that angered Calderwood.
The U’s boss said: “It was a horrible start for us but it was a clear handball and the guy (Gordon) has admitted it to our defenders at the time.
“That changes the dynamics for them a little bit. The second goal is entirely our fault. We’ve got to defend the corner better and the lads know that.
“That’s our responsibility but the responsibility for the first goal is entirely the officials’ – and probably some of their players as well.
“Everyone seemed to know it was a handball and it shouldn’t have been a goal.
“We are then playing catch-up. We kept going, got some half-chances, and if the goal had come a bit earlier, it might have led to a more nervous outcome – but it’s come too late.
“But in all honesty, if you’ve unlawfully lost the first goal, it’s hard to take and obviously VAR would have proved it – but we don’t have it.”
Cambridge slipped to 13th, five points off the play-offs, with defeat but victory was vital for Walsall, who opened a five-point gap to bottom-side Morecambe.
Boss Darrell Clarke, whose side visit non-league Darlington in a midweek FA Cup replay, felt Walsall should have won by more.
He added: “The lads like to take years off my life as a manager at the end by conceding the goal after we’ve had umpteen opportunities on the counter-attack in the second half.
“My heart is already on borrowed time. We were in cruise control at 2-0, defending really well and all of a sudden they might nick a 2-2 out of nowhere.
“But we didn’t get that kick in the face today which we’ve had a lot of times this season so we will take that.
“We’ve got a big week for the football club and it’s a great start.
“The more times you put the ball in the box, the more things you make happen and the more goals you will score.
“The more times you try to get your centre-forwards in the game, the more time you will spend in their half than your own half. It’s not rocket science.”