A dejected Kris Hunter admitted Formartine’s title dreams are over while questioning his squad’s hunger.
His side were comprehensively beaten 5-0 away at Brora, who are now top with victory.
The result leaves the Pitmedden outfit 11 points from the Highland League summit with just six games remaining.
Hunter feels the team has improved year on year but added they have “failed again” in their hopes of claiming a first league title.
He said: “I think we’ve improved this season. We had a good Scottish Cup run and we’re in the Highland League Cup final.
“We just need to look at ourselves, and we thought we would be strong in the league but we haven’t been.
“The buck stops with me but the players need to have a good, long, hard look at themselves and they’ll see that they have been a let-down again this year.
“There is no question of their talent but that’s not what is going to win the Highland League.
“We keep saying that but I still think some of these players don’t realise what the league is about, it’s a very difficult league.
“You just have to roll your sleeves up and win your battles but some of them don’t seem to be able to grasp that.
“If they can’t adapt, they can’t play in the Highland League.”
The damage was done with the first seven minutes as Kyle Macleod netted twice.
The forward first scored with his head after two minutes, adding a second from the penalty spot soon after.
Scott Graham curled in from long range on 25 minutes and Zander Sutherland’s 40-yard howitzer made it 4-0 by half-time.
Macleod wrapped up his hat-trick, taking his league tally to 10 for the season, in the 52nd minute.
Hunter added: “It’s disappointing, particularly the manner of the defeat.
“We started poorly and there was no energy about us at all.
“It wasn’t like Brora had to work hard for their goals, it was very simple mistakes on our behalf.
“We shouldn’t be conceding that many with the quality we’ve got in our team.
“It was very unlike us but it shouldn’t be happening and the players know it.”
The Formartine manager will now look to give his younger players a chance until the end of the campaign.
Hunter wants to look ahead to the Highland League Cup final and start rebuilding for next season.
He said: “We need to give the youngsters a chance to come in and see what they can do.
“They will bring a hunger to do well in the Highland League and I think we missed that, which shouldn’t be the case with the players I’ve got.”
In the other Highland League games, Fraserburgh extended their unbeaten run to 10 games and moved within a point of Formartine.
The Broch walloped Inverurie Locos 5-1 at Harlaw Park to end the hosts’three-match winning streak.
Forres and Turriff moved up to sixth and seventh, both leapfrogging Wick, after 2-0 away wins at Deveronvale and Strathspey respectively.
Rothes twice came from behind to beat league whipping boys Fort William 5-3 at Claggan Park.