Steve Bruce yesterday branded his team's performance "unacceptable" after seeing Birmingham City comprehensively outplayed by West Bromwich Albion.
So infuriated was he by his players' capitulation that the Blues boss has threatened to wield the axe for his team's next game - the derby clash against Aston Villa a week on Sunday.
After producing what he dubbed his side's worst performance since he took charge, Bruce fears his side has been sucked back into the Premiership's relegation picture.
"In three-and-a-half years at this club, I don't think I've ever publicly criticised my players," said Bruce. "But I simply won't accept a performance like I've just seen today - and in a derby game, too." After a proud unbeaten record in his previous ten West Midland Premiership derbies spanning the past three seasons, it was Bruce's first defeat. The anguish of losing so feebly was not hard to see.
"We were just as bad in the second half against Crystal Palace last week," he added after reading the riot act in the visitors' dressing room at The Hawthorns. "That's the frustrating thing because, three weeks ago, we beat Liverpool 2-0 and gave our best performance of the season.
"Maybe that public praise has affected a few because, in two games now, we haven't scored a goal and haven't got a point.
"I don't know if it's a comfort zone they're in, but I'll make sure I obliterate that."
Albion manager Bryan Robson's demeanour was the antithesis of his longstanding friend's.
Robson, who knows he is not yet anywhere near safe in the fight for survival in the top flight, said: "It was pleasing for the players because it is obviously difficult for them to keep going when they have been playing really well and haven't been getting too many breaks and not winning games.
"For them to put in another performance like that, play well and get the result, is very good for confidence.
"It's a nice boost to be off the bottom of the table. We are pleased about that. We know there is still a hard fight ahead of us, but this one gives us a little bit of encouragement."
Bruce, so often such a stout defender of his players, was not prepared to shoulder all the responsibility this time but he was also unwilling to reveal details of what he said to his players after the match.
"I bear the brunt," he said. "I'm the manager; I'm the one who prepares them and I pick them but that is simply not good enough and that's been told to the players in no uncertain manner.
"What is said in the dressing room remains in the dressing room, but I hope there's a reaction and I'm sure there will be as I simply won't accept that.
"My job is to analyse it to make sure it doesn't happen again and we've now got nine games left, starting with Aston Villa in two weeks' time, to show that.
"I can maybe bring in players of lesser ability, who will show a bit more in a derby game of what I expect.
"Everyone knows what to expect of us by now. The thing that we have had over the last three-and-a-half years is the spirit and togetherness that has kept us in this division.
"We are epitomised by our spirit, fight, tackles, ability and the courage to take the ball and I didn't see enough of that today.
"Yes, if Emile Heskey had put us back in it at 1-1 with that header of his that hit the post, it might have been a different story but, over the 90 minutes, West Brom were by far the better team and thoroughly deserved their victory. From the first minute to the last, they wanted it more than we did."
Even more worryingly for Bruce, his side's second consecutive defeat to one of the Premiership's bottom four has seriously threatened to draw them into the relegation equation.
"We know what it's like," he said. "We've been there and perhaps we will always be looking over our shoulder.
"Fulham, Blackburn, Portsmouth and ourselves, we're all in there now, because the teams at the bottom are playing well and picking up a few points.
"Southampton have won this weekend as well and Crystal Palace have got another great point against Manchester United, so there's all still to play for.
"We have to make sure that, against Villa in a fortnight, the performance is 100 per cent better than what we saw today."
Robson praised the performance of former Blues striker Geoff Horsfield, who tormented the visitors defence.
He said: "Horsfield was excellent. It was a very good performance from him. He led the line very well and brought players into the game.
"It was the sort of game to bring him back into. Birmingham make it very difficult for you to play against them and I thought that game would suit Geoff rather than Kanu or Rob Earnshaw."
Albion also showed a greater resolution at the back and achieved a second successive clean sheet.
A relieved Robson said: "In the midfield, we have got a lot of energy and you know you can compete in there but we've had two clean sheets as well and cut out the silly mistakes which were costing us - but we've now got to continue that to the end of the season."