Phil Parkinson accused his players of letting emotion get the better of them after Sunderland dropped out of the League One play-off places following a disappointing 2-0 defeat against Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium.
The Black Cats manager admitted that the 1,200 travelling fans had witnessed a poor performance which led to Rovers gaining only their second win since Ben Garner took charge in December.
The hosts took a 39th-minute lead when Jonson Clarke-Harris fired home on the turn from Ollie Clarke’s low cross.
And the result was sealed by a 75th-minute penalty, with Clarke-Harris netting with a low shot from the spot after Max Power had raised an arm to block a Luke Leahy centre from the left.
Sunderland did not force a save from home goalkeeper Jamal Blackman until stoppage time and Parkinson said: “That was not good enough.
“We looked in control at the start of the game but once the crowd and the referee got involved we became too emotional and caught up in a frenzy.
“There was an incident in front of the dugouts when two players clashed in the first half, which led to angry exchanges, but we needed to calm down once it was sorted.
“We failed to do that and conceded a goal minutes later. I took Kyle Lafferty off at half-time because I felt he was one incident away from being sent off.
“I thought the referee was very poor but I have told the players not to expect any favours away from home.
“Tonight they wanted to win so much that they forgot how to win. We will need to handle pressure over our remaining games and play better than we did here.”
Garner was understandably relieved after coming under increasing pressure from Rovers fans and was particularly delighted for defender Tony Craig, who was making his 600th career appearance.
“Tony’s family were here and it was a special night for him,” said Garner. “Every day of the week you get from him what it says on the tin.
“He is a model professional and I have stressed to my young players just how big an achievement 600 games is.
“While I am very happy with the result and performance, part of me wonders why we haven’t produced it more often in recent games.”
Garner agreed with Parkinson’s assessment of referee Charles Breakspear, adding: “We had a stonewall penalty turned down when Cameron Hargreaves was booked for diving.
“Then our goalkeeping coach was shown a yellow card on the bench in the second half and it was a case of mistaken identity.
“I won’t shop who should have got the card but I hope the referee will review both incidents and learn from them.
“Now it is all about consistency for us. One display like that is not enough.”