Rochdale manager John Coleman admitted the sending off of Port Vale's Sam Morsy threw his side a lifeline, but insisted referee Andy Woolmer had made the right decision following their 2-2 draw.
Midfielder Morsy was shown a straight red card for a high and late challenge on Jason Kennedy in the 66th minute after two goals by Tom Pope had put Vale in charge. Woolmer was booed from the field by irate home fans after the visitors had drawn level thanks to late strikes from Bobby Grant and Andrew Tutte.
Coleman said: "I can understand the Vale fans being frustrated, but in the cold light of day it was an outrageous challenge and the lad got what he deserved. There is no place in the game for challenges like that and unfortunately for Vale and Micky (Adams), it cost them the game.
"But we didn't impose ourselves and then we've given away a cheap goal. Their two forwards (Pope and Ben Williamson) were holding the ball up well and our inexperienced defenders couldn't cope. I would have bit your hand off for a point at ten past nine, but only one team was going to win it after we equalised and we nearly did.''
Prolific marksman Pope lifted a scrappy start to the contest when he tucked away his 16th goal of the season in the 27th minute.
Ben Williamson turned provider for Pope's second in the 62nd minute. Pope collected Williamson's low cross but still had plenty to do as he swivelled into space and lifted a 12-yard shot into the top left-hand corner of Lillis' net.
The game changed when Morsy was shown red and Vale were down to nine men when Rochdale scored their first as substitute Darren Murphy had limped off with a hamstring injury.
Grant reduced the arrears in the 73rd minute when he headed in from point-blank range and Andrew Tuttle equalised four minutes from time with a terrific 20-yard shot into the top right-hand corner of Chris Neal's net.
Vale boss Micky Adams was furious with Morsy and sent his assistant Mark Grew to talk to the press. Grew said: "I bought Sam Morsy to the club from Wolves when he was 16 and he had a nasty side to him then. That tackle wasn't nasty, but it was stupid because when you go in with your studs raised it always causes a problem.
"It's a shame because we were in control of the game and it has cost us. Pope has done tremendous again with his goals and we failed to take four or five other good chances to kill Rochdale off."