Scott Parker apologised for his side’s dire display against bottom-placed Barnsley after Fulham slipped up in the Championship race for promotion.
Amid stormy conditions at Craven Cottage, mistakes from goalkeeper Marek Rodák coupled with the Tykes’ clinical counter-attacks, ended a run of six league games without defeat for the Whites, who now find themselves three points off second-placed Leeds.
And Parker admitted that the sub-par performance came as a surprise to him.
“It’s a big shock,” he said. “I didn’t see that one coming. I hold no excuses, really.
“We were beaten by a better side today – a side that had more intensity about them. At times, we were second best. We didn’t deserve anything out of the game.
“There are excuses that can be put in place, but those excuses also apply to Barnsley. The conditions, the wind, two away games in a three days. But Barnsley had exactly the same. They came in today with a real intent about them.
“The intensity they came with, we struggled to match. We came out at half-time, we huffed and puffed, and maybe if you get a goal at that point, it would settle us down a little bit. But at 2-0, the game runs away from us a little bit.
“We came off the back of a six-game unbeaten run. This team has done remarkably well over the course of this period and stayed in it.
“This is a bump in the road, which is what this league brings. You’re playing the team at the bottom of the league fighting for their lives, and they come and do what they did to us today. We need to learn from that.”
The head coach continued: “I am shocked. I am bitterly disappointed. I’m absolutely gutted. I can only apologise for the performance today, because it wasn’t what we’ve come to expect.
“In saying that, sometimes these things happen, and ultimately we need to reboot and learn from them. The most important thing is to keep going, keep driving, keep being those strong characters in the changing room. Keep improving and not dwell.”
While Rodák’s misjudgements either side of the break cost Fulham, Parker encouraged the youngster to come back stronger and right his wrongs after an impressive season to date.
“He’s made two errors today. He’d be the first to hold his hands up and say that,” Parker said.
“The last thing I want to do is sit here and criticise him, because he’s been nothing short of fantastic since he’s come into the team.
“The biggest challenge for Marek now – and I’ve set the challenge to all of them – is this: during these moments, let it kill you. Let it burn inside. But the true character of great teams and great people is that, when you come back in on Monday morning, you need to be brighter than you’ve ever been and work harder than you ever have.
“I’m not going to judge Marek today. I’m going to judge him on Monday morning and hope he looks me in the eye and shows me in the first minute of training to the end that he’s going to improve and keep going.”