GARY Rowett says Burton Albion will have to improve massively to get anything out of the last four games of the season after defeat at Northampton left them almost out of the automatic promotion race.
The Brewers sank 1-0 at Sixfields after a dire performance – possibly their worst of the season – handed the strugglers three points.
With Chesterfield winning 2-1 at Hartlepool, the gap to third spot in now six point with just four games left.
“That’s probably the most disappointed I’ve been in the 42 games this season,” said Brewers boss Rowett.
“I don’t think the game’s up, but we’ve got to win games to put pressure on.
“I still think we need another win to be in the play-offs.
“Again, I said to the players in there that I don’t care how we go up.
“If it means automatic, or through the play-offs, I’m not going to pick and choose.
“But I would say we’re going to have to play an awful lot better than that to get anything out of these remaining four games and whatever lies beyond that.
“We’ve got to try to keep putting pressure on.
“We knew today was going to be a tough game, we knew it was going to be a lot tougher than people saying it was second bottom against fifth.
“It doesn’t really work like that in our league at times. It’s often which team has the most desire.
“I thought Northampton today just showed they wanted the game a bit more than us and that was disappointing from my point of view.”
Rowett says Albion’s problems started in the warm-up to the match.
They were not helped by keeper Rob Lainton’s blunder just before half-time as he allowed John Marquis’ shot to squirm through his grasp.
But they were short of ideas and never really looked like getting an equaliser in a flat second half against their determined hosts.
“It’s very disappointing,” said the manager. “We were poor in the warm-up and we took that into the game.
“It was a sloppy start.
“We knew what Northampton were going to do.
“Chris (Wilder) changed to a back five, and while that didn’t cause us a problem, it allowed them to get more bodies further forward and pin us in a little bit.
“The long throws constantly put us under pressure.
“I thought they played generally with a bit more tempo and a little bit more desire early in the game.
“That’s the disappointing thing for us - we didn’t get to grips with it in the first half.
“Second half we couldn’t have chased it any more. We had a front four almost, yet we didn’t create any real chances of note.
“Our best chance came first half when Shane (Cansdell-Sherriff) had an opportunity from a ball dropping down into the box, which we maybe should’ve done better with.
“Their goal came from a poor situation, if you like, a bit of a mistake.
“That goal was the only real difference in some ways.
“The game was scrappy and physical. They were a bit more physical than us and maybe they showed they had a little bit more on the line than us.”
Lainton damaged a finger in the goal and forced Rowett to make an unwanted substitution which limited his options later on.
Callum McFadzean was also injured in the first half and Damien McCrory failed to even start because of a knee injury on what was a depressing day for Brewers fans.
“With the goal, Rob says the ball dipped and caught him on the end of a finger,” said Rowett. “He’s damaged some tendons in his finger and was unable to carry on, which was a shame, firstly because of the goal, and secondly because we had to make a substitution which limits what we can do.
“Also, Callum McFadzean came off with a dead leg, so suddenly two changes are out of the way and you want to save those.
“We tried to be braver second half and go with three right up against them, which made them switch to a back four, but we couldn’t play with the right sort of quality.
“That was the disappointing thing. When we switched to 4-3-3 and tried to pass the ball, we didn’t pass the ball well enough.
“We didn’t play with enough tempo.
“I think, full credit to Chris (Wilder) - he’s got an excellent result against us and I don’t want to take anything away from his side.
“I thought they worked really, really hard for him and showed they’ve got the desire to stay in this division.
“For us it’s massively disappointing. It’s a game that you want to take by the scruff of the neck and I didn’t think we did that at all today.
“Losing Damo before the game was a little bit of a blow, but we’ve got a good enough team and a good enough squad to do more than that.”