Matthew Bates fears Hartlepool United are “lacking football intelligence” after they conceded a last-minute winner against Plymouth Argyle.
Pools equalised through Scott Fenwick’s penalty with five minutes remaining but Kelvin Mellor scored in the 90th minute for top of the table Plymouth.
We need to learn quickly as individuals and as a team, to see the game out.
The visitors’ winner came after Pools gave the ball away at their own throw-in and Mellor was found unmarked in the box.
Stand-in skipper, Bates said: “You can have all the technical ability in the world, all the fitness you want, but if you don’t know the game in your own head you are going to struggle.
“We need to learn quickly as individuals and as a team, to see the game out.
“Not just the end of the game but at certain stages, how we play it and make the right decision on the ball.
“Is it a lack of experience?
“I am not sure, is it intelligence? How to play the games at certain times? I think that is probably what we are, lacking football intelligence.”
The loss was the second home league game in a row, after last month’s defeat to Oxford United, when Pools have produced good display only to concede a late winner.
Bates said: “It seems to have happened too often this season.
“We seem to think we are going to get a result out of the game, which we have worked so hard in, and then the sucker punch at the end.
“We can’t keep saying the same things, we need to man up and see these games out.”
The display from Ronnie Moore’s side was improved from Tuesday’s FA Cup win over Salford City but the loss leaves them 21st in League Two.
“You can’t fault the performance,” Bates said.
“I have played in many a game when we really have struggled but it didn’t feel like that.
“Plymouth have gone top of the league today and there was nothing in the game.
“When we equalised with the penalty I thought there was only one team that can win this.
“We felt quite comfortable at the back and I was telling our lads to go on and win it.
“We didn’t lose the game because of that, it was our throw-in and we set up as a team as two banks of four.
“The individual errors from losing the ball and not tracking the runners have cost us.”
Pools’ goal came from the spot after Mellor, who later scored Plymouth’s winner, fouled Fenwick but the referee chose not to dismiss the Argyle defender despite claims he denied a goalscoring opportunity.
The referee, Graham Salisbury, also turned down strong claims from the hosts for a first half penalty when a Michael Woods shot appeared to be stopped by the hands of a Plymouth defender.
Bates said: “A few of the decisions didn’t go our way and I understand being a referee is difficult, I try to speak to them with the utmost respect, it is not easy for them.
“I haven’t seen the replay but we could have had a penalty in the first half and don’t know how he hasn’t sent the lad off in the second half.”
Bates has been one of his side’s best performers over recent weeks and was praised for his display by boss Ronnie Moore after the game.
The 29-year-old said: “It is obviously nice to play well and I know it is a cliché but I would be happier if we had have won.
“I just think it is game time and a bit of confidence has come back.
“I am enjoying the football again, I am not enjoying the results, but I am enjoying being out there and in my favourite position.
“I still feel there is a lot to come from me, I can still be fitter than I am as the games go on. I don’t feel 100 per cent, there is definitely more to come.”
The ex-Middlesbrough defender struggled through the second half against Plymouth after picking up an Achilles following a collision with teammate Nicky Featherstone.
He said: “The first injury has come from my own player who has stood on me, that’s not to worry. It had swollen right up and I panicked a bit, I didn’t know what it was.
“I have just got a bit of a swollen toe. I don’t really know where it has come from so that is the worrying one so we will assess it.”