Craig Hignett suffered the third and heaviest defeat since becoming Hartlepool United boss and admitted: I never saw it coming.
Pools were thumped 4-1 at a rampant Bristol Rovers last night to deepen their relegation worries.
We needed to be strong, but we were the opposite.
Hignett’s side remain outside the drop zone but are now four points behind Yeovil Town who defeated Accrington 1-0 at Huish Park.
Pools do have three games in hand on the Glovers and Stevenage, but those spare matches are away at Newport, Notts County and Carlisle.
On the evidence of last night’s defensive debacle, it will be hard to see them overhauling fourth-bottom Yeovil.
Pools gifted Rovers forward Matty Taylor a hat-trick, with strike partner Rory Gaffney also on target, with another giveaway.
“You can’t give goals like that and expect to be in games,” said Hignett, who must now lift his side for Saturday’s vital trip to Barnet.
“Coming away from home, you want to be tight and compact and be hard to beat. But we were anything but that last night.
“The goals were schoolboy mistakes, really disappointing from our point of view.
“We needed to be strong, but we were the opposite, we were really passive, especially first half.
“We never put a foot in or got close to anyone - we were too easy to play against. I never saw this coming.
“But I’ve learned an awful lot about the players last night and that’s a good thing for me.
“This was an eye-opener - I learned a lot about the character of some of them.”
Pools trailed 3-0 at the break at the Memorial Stadium but Hignett felt Pools were not out of it, given they had the strong wind and slope in their favour in the second period.
And there was hope when Brad Walker set up Billy Paynter for his 11th goal of the season in the 52nd minute to cut the deficit.
But Pools gave away a fourth, Taylor completing his treble inside four minutes to rule out any comeback.
“Even at half-time, I thought we still have a chance,” said Hignett. “With the wind and kicking downhill, I thought ‘if we score first, they might wobble’.
“I hoped it might be like Notts County - we scored first and I thought we could go on. But we gave them a really poor goal.
“We gave that lad the easiest hat-trick he will ever score and he must be laughing his head off.”
Hignett said “thank you” for the fans who made the long trek to Bristol.
“For us to play like that for all those people who travelled all that way was really disappointing,” said the 46-year-old.
“I’m gutted for them because I wanted us to send them home feeling positive.
“I’d like to thank them for sticking by the lads and they did.”