Marcus Bignot says his Chester FC side 'never earned the right to play' in their 1-0 FA Trophy loss at lower-league East Thurrock United.
The Blues made the trip to Essex to take on National League South outfit in confident mood after an unbeaten start to 2018.
But their hopes of continuing the momentum and sealing a place in the last 16 of the Trophy were dashed by Calvin Ekpetita's 17th-minute strike.
And a miserable afternoon was compounded when substitute Gary Roberts was sent off 10 minutes into his debut for a tackle on Max Cornhill.
Roberts, who had been making a positive impression, insisted he got the ball.
But the midfielder is now set to sit out the next three matches through suspension as Chester resume their battle to stay in the National League.
Bignot on the defeat
"It's the old saying, 'you have to earn the right to play'. Generally it comes from midfield and we were overran in there. They were first to the ball, second to the ball.
"Our lads ran out of steam, certainly in the first half, so we had to change the shape to stay in the game at half-time because we were getting overrun. We changed the system second half and it enabled to get us a foothold in the game, but if you give a team from a lower league a head start, you give them something to hang on to.
"We've had a conversation in there (dressing room), and a real constructive one. Some home truths have been told, and now let's see a reaction.
"I'm looking again to my senior players. They've got to understand what it takes and today they were short in there. If they are losing the battle in there, there's got to be an understanding of how to get back and win that battle."
Bignot on the sending off
"I'm really gutted for him. That one pass when he put Ross (Hannah) through... I'm not bad at seeing passes and seeing play, and even I didn't see that. That's what he brings. He came on and bossed it for us. He got us into patterns got our talented players on the ball.
"I honestly didn't see it (the tackle) so I can't make an opinion on it. I'm gutted for him. He tells me he got the ball. To lose him is going to be a blow."