Disappointed Barnsley boss Dave Flitcroft revealed that ‘surgery’ is required to his squad after they were sunk without trace by rampant Watford on Saturday.
It was a third defeat on the spin for the beleaguered Reds, who remain firmly entrenched in the Championship drop zone.
They rarely threatened a Watford side packed full of quality players and, unless fortunes change quickly, a long, hard, backs-to-the-wall winter appears to be beckoning.
After the game, glum faces hovered around the players’ tunnel waiting for a reaction, with Flitcroft not emerging for his post-match media briefing until way beyond 5.30pm.
He pulled no punches in his assessment.
Flitcroft said: “We’ve not defended well enough, and the second and third goals were as poor as we’ve conceded since I took over.
“In the end we’ve slipped way below the standard required.
“We can’t afford to be 10 per cent off against sides like Watford, but today we were 30 or 40 per-cent below the standard that’s required.
“The players have let the group down, and of course they’ve let the fans down.
“I’ve always given them support, though, and I have to keep doing that and keep loving them.
“Surgery is needed, though, and we’ll make that surgery.
“We’ve got a planned board meeting on Monday and there will be some good people in that room.
“We’ll assess the situation and we have to find the solutions.
“What they will be yet I don’t know, but we’ll get to the bottom of exactly where we’re at.”
The Reds had gone into the game following back-to-back defeats on the road, but boss Flitcroft made just the two changes to the starting line-up that featured in the 1-0 reverse at Bournemouth last Tuesday.
Both were forward-thinking moves, with veteran former Swansea and Wigan frontman Jason Scotland coming in for his first start of the season at the expense of the misfiring Chris Dagnall.
Across the midfield four, ex-Chelsea starlet Jacob Mellis was back in for a starting berth, with Tomasz Cywka deemed fit enough only for a place among the substitutes after he had picked up a slight calf strain down on the south coast.
Loan centre-back Peter Ramage made his home debut, but for Welsh international defender Lewin Nyatanga there was more frustration as injury kept him out once again.
Last season’s Championship play-off finalists, Watford, who had endured a mixed start to the current campaign and were in sixth place in the table ahead of kick-off, fielded a much-changed line-up from the one which had edged out Doncaster Rovers at Vicarage Road in midweek.
Boss Gianfranco Zola made five changes to his starting 11 - the most notable of which saw highly-rated Fernando Forestieri coming in to partner goal machine Troy Deeney up front. Javier Acuna was dropped to the bench.
On a day when the Championship’s leading goalscorers took on the division’s leakiest defence, it didn’t take long for Deeney to make his mark.
Barely six minutes had passed when he latched on to Lewis McGugan’s through-ball, steadied himself, then coolly side-footed a clinical finish past Luke Steele from 15 yards.
Credit to the Reds, however, they weren’t phased in those early stages and Scotland repaid the faith shown in him by Flitcroft as he fired the hosts level in superb style.
Robbing dithering midfielder Iriney on the edge of the Watford box, the wily old hitman let fly with a crisp, low drive which fizzed unerringly past Hornets skipper and goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.
The home fans were lifted and confidence shot back into the Reds team, only for Zola’s men to rapidly retake the lead with a disappointing strike from a defensive point of view.
The tricky Ikechi Anya saw his cross deflected into the Barnsley box, where Davide Faraoni was afforded far too much time and space as he slotted home easily past Steele at the far post.
Chris O’Grady drilled inches over as the Reds briefly threatened again, only for the Hornets to bag a goal which effectively knocked the stuffing out of their opponents two minutes before the interval.
This time Anya was allowed to charge down the left flank almost unopposed, before dragging a low cross back into the path of Forestieri who was never going to miss his chance from four yards.
At 3-1 behind prospects looked grim for Flitcroft and his troops, though there was evidence of renewed impetus after the restart when O’Grady fired just wide and Martin Cranie saw a point-blank header superbly beaten away by Almunia.
That had offered only false hope, however.
With 20 minutes to go midfielder Sean Murray made it 4-1 as he crashed home a sweet strike from 25 yards, a super effort soon to be followed by an equally impressive fifth goal.
This time Anya finally grabbed the goal his impressive performance had deserved.
When Reds sub Jim O’Brien’s free-kick into the Watford box was headed clear Anya picked up the loose ball 25 yards from his own goal and raced with purpose and pace all the way into the Barnsley penalty area before drilling accurately past a stunned Steele .