A QUESTIONABLE penalty has cost Ballarat Red Devils more points in the National Premier Leagues Victoria season.
The McDonalds Reds slumped to a 1-0 loss to Northcote City in round 16 action at Morshead Park on Saturday.
The only goal of the match, from Northcote's Jonathan Munoz, came from the penalty spot at the 13-minute mark when a free kick into the Red Devils wall saw the referee call a handball foul against the home side.
Ballarat sparked itself into action almost immediately after the dubious call.
The Red Devils played out the remainder of the opening stanza as the better side, but failed to register their dominance on the scoreboard.
Nelson Salvatore, Simon Murphy, Deng Aguek and Paul Harvey all blew golden opportunities to score the equaliser midway through the half.
Munoz was subbed out of the match with an injury with less than 15 minutes of the opening half-left, but the visitors were able to maintain their lead into the break.
A largely unremarkable second-half saw neither side produce any real scoring opportunities, but several yellow cards were dished out as players from both parties grew frustrated with the stagnant play.
Liam Harding drew a yellow of his own at the 69-minute mark while Aguek, who failed to influence the contest after a stellar first two games with the Reds, was subbed out for Michael Trigger 77 minutes in.
Charlie King made his return from injury when he replaced Simon Murphy at the 56-minute mark
The Red Devils captain nearly put his side back on even terms with Northcote when his strike sailed over the cross bar 10 minutes later.
Red Devils player manager James Robinson was upbeat post match, saying the team maintained its endeavour and intensity throughout the game.
However, he lamented the lack of polish displayed at crucial moments.
"We weren't clinical enough, that's what it comes down to," Robinson said.
"When you only get a few chances you need to put them away and you only get a certain amount before you get punished."
Robinson didn't see the Red Devil who inadvertently caused the early penalty, but he nonetheless labelled the decision as "soft".
"What can you do - it was kicked right at the wall," he said.
"We had a lot of chances to punish them and we didn't - it's frustrating."