Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes said his team “can’t win playing for 45 minutes” after a first-half onslaught saw them lose 2-1 to Hearts at Tynecastle.
Craig Levein’s aggressive Premiership leaders flew at the subdued Dons in the opening period, taking the lead via an Arnaud Djoum header and controversial Steven Naismith penalty.
Lewis Ferguson was adjudged by referee Kevin Clancy to have handled the ball as he fell with the Jambos striker in the box.
The Reds came back strong in the second half, Gary Mackay-Steven scoring a spot-kick of his own, but were denied an equaliser the boss thought “was coming”.
With their slow start doing the damage, McInnes insisted his team – now 10 points off the Jambos – were warned about Hearts’ intensity at Tynecastle.
He said: “We gave the players every warning about how strong Hearts are at home.
“The crowd here are brilliant at getting behind their team and create a brilliant atmosphere. I felt that Hearts started far more aggressively and we have to play beyond them more than we did.
“We were loose with our clearances and had to be better than we were.”
The gaffer said, despite finding themselves under the cosh early in the ill-tempered affair which produced 55 fouls and 11 bookings, there weren’t too many clear-cut Hearts chances, but the opener was avoidable.
No one in a red shirt moved to block Callumn Morrison’s right-wing cross and he picked out Djoum with precision.
Wingers Niall McGinn and Scott Wright made a difference when brought on for the second half, with McGinn being brought down for the Dons penalty.
However, McInnes stood by his starting 11, saying he hadn’t picked “the wrong team”.
The manager, who also slated referee Clancy for Hearts’ first-half penalty, said: “The first goal we have to stop the cross.
“We have a spare man at the edge of the box and it’s far too easy for that ball to come in.
“The second one I’m really disappointed with – young Lewis is actually fouled by Naismith.
“He slips and goes into him. Lewis is clearly impeded and tries to stop his fall. We have to be better than that and see it for what it is.”
He added: “I said to Tony (Docherty) before Hearts scored that Joe Lewis had not had much to do.
“I was contemplating making the changes at half-time – it wasn’t the wrong team that was out today but as a team, we weren’t ready for the intensity of Hearts, which is disappointing.
“We played a bit young in the first half and lacked the belief to get on the ball.”
Joe Lewis saved a second Naismith penalty after the break when Shay Logan hauled down Sean Clare.
Nevertheless, McInnes was full of praise for a Hearts side now three points clear of Celtic, 4-2 winners against Hibernian, at the top of the Premiership.
Aberdeen sit seventh.
With the Betfred Cup semi-final against Rangers at Hampden on Sunday looming, McInnes also said the Reds must learn quickly they can’t win games playing well for only one half.
They will need to show the intensity of their second-half performance, or even better it, to beat the Gers to another League Cup final.
He said: “Hearts were fantastic in the first half and I think for the first time in a long time, they’ve got a decent team here.
“The crowd have bought into it and it’ll be tough for any team to come here.
“We can’t win the game playing for 45 minutes.
“I wasn’t happy with a lot of decisions but if some of them go our way and we play the way we did in the second half, we might get something from the game.”