GARY Rowett blamed a glut of fixtures as Burton Albion missed out on moving into an automatic promotion spot in League Two.
Victory over Aldershot Town at the Pirelli Stadium on Tuesday would have lifted the Brewers to third place.
Instead, they dropped to 10th in a congested table, with Spanish striker Dani Lopez grabbing the only goal of the game as the visitors extended their unbeaten run away from home to four matches and climbed out of the bottom two.
The forward, on loan from Stevenage, punished a dozing Albion defence after only four minutes and the Brewers rarely looked capable of salvaging anything from their worst home performance of the season.
The Brewers boss admitted a third outing in six days was a game too far for his weary side.
Rowett said: “We looked after 70 minutes or so on Saturday (against Dagenham & Redbridge) as though we might fade and I hoped that three days’ recovery might be enough to get us through this one.
“But I think you could see quite clearly straight from the start that we didn’t have our usual zip and energy.
“The lads were quiet in the dressing room before the game and we tried to lift them a little bit to try to pre-empt things, but I think we’ve paid the price for our punishing schedule.
“That’s not to take anything away from Aldershot because I think they worked really hard to capitalise on our situation and stopped us from having too much of the ball.
“I think it’s one of those occasions where we’ve just got to take it on the chin and move on to the next game.
“The early goal obviously didn’t help our cause — and it was a very, very poor one to concede.
“You don’t expect us to do that when one (striker) gets up for the header to one long ball down the middle and the other gets in behind us.
“We’ve defended well all season, so it was particularly disappointing to do that so early in the game, and it gave us a mountain to climb.
“In recent weeks when we’ve gone a goal down, we’ve usually managed to come back with an answer.
“We did have three or four moments in the game where you just wanted someone to make a bit of a name for themselves.
“In the end, we were the makers of our own downfall, but I can’t really hold the players responsible for that in a way.
“It’s just the way the fixtures have fallen that I’ve had to ask an awful lot of them when you’ve played Thursday night, Saturday and Tuesday.”
The one crumb of comfort for Rowett was a brief but promising first appearance for new loan signing Jacob Blyth.
The 20-year-old from Leicester City was sent on in the 79th minute as the Brewers were forced to chase the game.
Rowett said: “I would have liked to put Jacob on earlier but he’d played 90 minutes for Leicester’s development squad on Monday and I didn’t think it was appropriate for him.
“But I think what people will see is a player who will win headers and give us a bit of size up there.
“He almost got himself a goal off a long throw and also tested the keeper.
“I think he’ll be a useful option for us.”
ALBION have extended winger Jordan Chappel’s loan deal from Sheffield United by another month.
The 21-year-old has made one start and two substitute appearances, and scored his only goal so far on his first outing, as a substitute in the 1-1 home draw with Port Vale last month.
He has missed the last five games because of an ankle injury picked up in training, but could be back in the squad for Saturday’s trip to Wycombe Wanderers.
The loan extension includes Albion’s trip to Barnet on Friday, December 21.
GRESLEY’S Evo-Stik NPL Division One South fixture at home to Romulus on Tuesday was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch at the Moat Ground.