Exeter boss Matt Taylor admitted he was lost for words after seeing a penalty given against goalkeeper Christy Pym for a challenge on Luke Varney as his play-off chasers had to settle for a point at Cheltenham.
The Grecians were 1-0 up thanks to Dean Moxey’s first-half strike when Pym collided with Varney as they both attacked a Ryan Broom cross midway through the second half.
A groggy Varney had to be carried off before Conor Thomas scored from the resulting spot-kick to help earn Cheltenham a 1-1 draw.
However, Taylor was left seething by the decision and Pym was also sent off late on for a second yellow card.
“I thought we were in control and one decision went against us,” Taylor said.
“We couldn’t get any control back after that. It was a huge decision and one that was completely wrong. I am not sure how the referee can justify giving a penalty for that.
“It’s then 1-1 and they are in the ascendancy, but we still had half-chances and played pretty well.
“We certainly carried on with some sort of game plan and structure, but you can’t help but be affected. I don’t think anyone here can argue with that.”
He added: “Credit to the boys because we still had enough of the ball to hurt the opposition. It became quite open and we tried to win it, but I am bitterly disappointed with the decision because he has punched the ball and it was momentum.
“If that’s a penalty, I don’t know what to say and for the first time this season I was lost for words as to what to say to my players.”
Recalled midfielder Thomas held his nerve to convert from the spot following a lengthy stoppage in play after the incident which saw Pym shown his first yellow card and Varney leave the field on the stretcher.
There were few chances in the first period but Exeter went ahead in the 36th minute when Craig Woodman teed up Moxey for a shot into the bottom right corner from 20 yards.
However, the Grecians were denied three points towards their bid for a top-seven finish by Thomas’ sixth successful penalty of the season.
Cheltenham looked the more likely winners in the closing stages with Kevin Dawson’s volley tipped over by Pym and substitute Rakish Bingham twice going close.
But Scott Flinders also had to save well at his near post to deny Ryan Bowman after a mistake from Will Boyle in the 84th minute.
Pym kept out a Bingham effort deep into stoppage time, but the Exeter number one was then sent off for an off-the-ball shove on Waters which earned him a second caution and Jacob Maddox saw a late chance saved by replacement goalkeeper James Hamon.
Cheltenham boss Michael Duff accepted the penalty decision in his side’s favour was harsh.
However, he also felt the Robins did enough to claim at least a point, if not all three and that one late decision went against them.
“I didn’t think we were great, but we more than deserved to win the game when you break it down to clear-cut chances,” he said.
“In the first half we played some really nice football, but didn’t have enough physicality in our game.
“In the second half we didn’t play enough, but we brought the physicality.
“It shows how far we’ve come that we are disappointed not to beat a play-off team.
“My reaction will tell you I thought there was a handball by the goalkeeper outside the box (deep into stoppage time), but they will feel the penalty was harsh and it probably was, but we definitely deserved at least a draw.”