Tony Pulis says his Middlesbrough side must be up for the fight after slipping out of the play-off picture following defeat to Sheffield United.
Boro fell behind within two minutes of the kick off courtesy of a spectacular long-range volley from midfielder Lee Evans.
It went from bad to worse for the away side as Grant Leadbitter received his marching orders, picking up two yellow cards in six minutes before Evans struck again to double Sheffield United’s lead.
A big half-time team talk ensued with Pulis bringing on Asssombalonga, Clayton and Fabio for Bamford, Besic and Traore in the hope of sparking a response.
And it appeared to work early in the second half as Daniel Ayala poked home from a set piece as Boro looked to push on and make amends for a poor first half display.
But it ultimately proved costly as the Blades held on to an important three points in the hunt for promotion.
“Disappointing first half,” Pulis told BBC Tees. “George (Friend) throws our throw-in out of play and gives it to them. That summed up our start.
“They scored a great goal. We should be marking him but it’s a great volley, so sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say ‘he’s pulled one out of the bag’.”
Pulis was particularly frustrated with the decision to send off captain Grant Leadbitter for a challenge on John Fleck and claimed the Scot made the most of the tackle.
“I’ve seen it. The kid throws himself to the ground, he’s got his hands up in the air and rolls around holding his ankle.
“It’s a challenge that you can give a free kick for. But a challenge to book, knowing he’s going to be sent off, is very harsh.
“The first booking is a booking, and I understand that. But then to know that that player is going to leave the pitch and it’s going to be 10 against 11 is a massive decision for the referee to make.
“To do it on a challenge like that is very poor. If Grant has gone in with his studs up or has gone over the ball then you can accept that.
“But the kid’s just moved his feet quickly, looking at it slowly I’m not so sure Grant even touched him and he (Fleck) throws himself over.”
Change was needed in the second half and Pulis brought on three substitutes in an attempt to swing the game in their Boro’s favour.
“I wanted some more energy in the team,” Pulis said. “We lacked some enthusiasm in the first half and we brought three players on who did fantastically well.
“Britt livened it up upfront, that was the best he’s played since I’ve been here. Fabio, you know what you’re going to get with him – he’s going to give everything. Clayts I thought was excellent in midfield. The three of them really picked the team up.
“I’m really disappointed for the supporters, and the lads, that we’ve not got something out of the game because that second half performance, against eleven men, we deserved something.”
Asked what made the difference in the second half performance, Pulis said: “The three players coming on at half-time, rolling their sleeves up and giving us the energy you need to win football matches.
“Football matches are all about people running around and having a go. Yes, we’ve got some good footballers, but when we started pressing up against them and putting them under pressure, there was a different team in the second half.”
Boro now find themselves outside the play-off places with crucial games against promotion rivals still to come, and Pulis says his players must be up for the fight.
“Every game from now until the end of the season is tough,” Pulis said. “We’ve got to see how the players react. I find it exhilarating, I wanted to be part of it when I joined this football club.
“That’s what I want from the players, I don’t want them holding back. We can’t get into the top two so let’s get into the top six.”