David Martindale told his Livingston players to take responsibility for their predicament as he labelled their first-half defending “shambolic” following a 3-1 defeat by Motherwell.
Theo Bair scored twice and set up another for Blair Spittal inside 35 minutes, with Scott Pittman pulling one back midway through the half.
Livi pushed for a lifeline after the break but never really troubled their former goalkeeper Liam Kelly as they slipped further adrift at the foot of the cinch Premiership.
Their visit to Fir Park provided a chance to cut the gap at the bottom to one point but they are now six behind Ross County, who have two games in hand.
“The first-half performance, I never saw it coming,” Martindale said. “It was well below the standard expected of Livingston players.
“They should probably have been three up before they scored. Our defending was shocking. It was shambolic. And it comes from the individuals on the park.
“I spoke to the players, we can talk about game plans, tactics, formations, it’s all bulls*** if you don’t do your one-v-one jobs properly.
“As a defensive unit, the individual errors we made in the first half were terrible.
“We get ourselves back in the game, and we shouldn’t have been anywhere the game, and we shoot ourselves in the foot again with a mistake. It gives us a mountain to climb.”
Motherwell had not won in 15 games but started brightly to leave Livi with two points from 12 matches since beating the Steelmen in West Lothian.
Martindale added: “I have sat in numerous press conferences and tried to take the pressure off the players and be positive. I don’t feel that after today’s game.
“Players need to start taking a bit more responsibility. It’s too easy in modern-day football – sack the manager, sack the manager.
“What about the players? They now need to start taking responsibility.
“I tried to take the pressure off them but we are in a relegation battle now and that first-half performance was diabolical. Second half was a bit better but not much.”
Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell praised his players for their approach after they doubled their tally of first-half league goals for the season.
“Everyone has spoken about the poor run we have been on and you need to show massive character to get yourself out of that,” said Kettlewell, whose side moved up to eighth.
“I thought the first half, especially the start to the game, was indicative of where we were and what the players were pouring into the game.
“Everyone with that one cause, to break the cycle and give ourselves a chance to move up the table
“The only way we could do that was defend better, switch on better, and then from my side of things it was very purposeful in going with three strikers, and going with mobility at the top end of the pitch where we felt we could try and expose Livingston. We got joy from it.
“Second half wasn’t pretty but you know Livingston are going to fight for their cause and you know they are going to go straight up to the striker.
“So what you have to do is defend against that and the three points were always going to be the most important thing.”