Bootle manager Brian Richardson was left questioning himself and his players following their damning 4-1 defeat at home to Congleton Town in the FA Cup.
The Bucks are a league higher than the Bears but they couldn’t be separated after 90 minutes on Saturday setting up the replay on Tuesday.
However they failed to make home advantage count as they were poor in their defeat to Richard Kelly’s well-structured side.
It compounded a miserable start for Bootle in which they have picked up one point in their opening two matches after their disappointing defeat against Leek Town before earning a point against Widnes.
Reflecting on the performance, a frustrated Richardson told Off The Park: “(It’s) Not what you’d want, you get beat 4-1 at home against a team in the league below you’ve got to start asking questions, we’ve all got to start asking questions about ourselves, I’ve got to question myself and I’ve got to question the players.
“I think the players have to either put up with it or move on, simple as that.
“I don’t think the line was high enough, I don’t think we were aggressive enough in the middle of the park,” he added, discussing where it went wrong.
“I thought they came with a good game plan but they were an okay side. Last year, I’d have expected us to win that game, this year we’ve not started well, simple as that.
“When things like that happen in the dressing room, confidence starts to erode and it gets worse before it gets better and that’s where we’re at.
“We need to teach these lads that they’ve got to stand up, be men, show some heart and fight and if they don’t there’s nothing for them.
“Like I’ve just said to them, my career is finished, at my age, but some of these lads are talented enough to move on and I don’t get where there’s no desire, no hunger I just don’t understand that.
“I can’t get my head into the head of a young player who puts a performance in like that and thinks it’s acceptable because it’s not.”
Whilst Congleton were good, to caveat that Bootle struggled to get out of the traps, on whether they played into the visitors side hands, he said: “They go together, when a side plays poor then that team normally dominates and they look like they’ve done brilliantly.
“I’d say it was a poor performance, if you look at their last goal, it’s came from our winger who’s picked out their centre-midfielder going backwards, I didn’t see any of our centre-forwards being played in. At the end of the day, it’s a poor performance from us, end of story.”
Cian Spencer-McDermott pulled a goal back for Bootle after Tom Pope and George Sankey fired the visitors into a two-goal second-half lead after a goalless first 45.
But shortly after the Bucks were offered a glimmer of a hope, Simon Wills was adjudged to have handled in the penalty box and Congleton had the opportunity to restore their two-goal lead.
Jonathan Beaumount did just that, albeit with a stroke of luck after Pope’s effort from 12 yards cannoned off the bar.
The Bootle boss continued: “At 2-1 I thought we were a little bit fortunate and we might get in it but the third goal was a poor mistake from Sam and I think he’d own that aswell, the penalties pinged up and as it come down he should’ve caught it.
“He’s not daft, he’s an experienced ‘keeper, he’ll be disappointed in that.
“But then that turns the game back on its head. At 2-1, you’re in with a punches chance, when you make a mistake like that you’ve gone out the game, at 3-1 the lads start to think we’re not coming back.
“But I think sometimes, it’s about showing people that you care, if you’re 3-1 down, 4-1 down, 5-1 down, it’s about showing people you want to keep going and want to work hard and come out with some respect from it.
“To be fair, there’s some learning to do, are we a million miles away? At the minute, definitely. Looking at the players who were playing there today, a fair few of them were playing last year. Are they in the form they were last year? You better ask them but I don’t think a lot of them are.”
Despite the result and recent run, Richardson had a defiance about looking to prove people wrong and dig themselves out of the rut.
He elaborated: “Collectively we’re trying to bring new players in whilst the same time when the old guards struggling as well. At the moment, it’s difficult but these are the challenges that you should accept in life, these are the challenges you should be happy about, there’s nothing like having a challenge and turning it over – that’s the best thing that you can prove people wrong in football.
“That’s how they’ve got to look at it, prove people wrong, get a couple of good results confidence comes up and away you go. This year we’ve scored six goals in 11 games, last year the front three scored, something like, 60 in 90 games between them, for some reason and I don’t know and I’m sure all three won’t tell me because they won’t know.
“For some reason, we’re not putting the ball in the back of the net and that’s put the pressure on the game.”
The first-half brought one half-chance for Bootle in a disappointing showing. Richardson revealed he handed his side a dressing down during the interval.
“We had a rollicking at half-time so you can rollick forever, that had a rollicking on Saturday, it can go on forever,” he said.
“It’s more of a challenging on and the end of the game. Words are cheap, to me if players don’t perform they go, there’s no point, if managers don’t perform they go, goalkeepers don’t perform they go.
“We’re not on contracts but it’s a case of the door swings both ways and if players don’t want to do it here, find another club but it’s up to them. We’re at a crossroads, they knew last year when they pulled themselves round in this similar situation, a bad start last year, they pulled themselves round by hard work and they’ve got to take the same philosophy this year then maybe we’re going to add one or two in.”
The turnaround is quick for Bootle as they travel to Trafford on Saturday before the matter of a local derby on Monday against City of Liverpool.
After eluding to the lack of desire in the replay performance, when asked if it was lacking in the squad Richardson added:”It’s the same players here last year, are they lacking fire in their bellies? Maybe they are.
“Maybe they’ve seen the challenge last year and they’re thinking we were okay but we don’t need to do as much this year because we’re now a good side.
“I’ve seen that happen at clubs I’ve been at before where they climb the mountain then they suddenly think they’re f*cking superstars and stop doing what they were doing best.
“Maybe they’ve got to look at themselves, I said then look at yourselves tonight, come in and train hard Thursday, give us a big shift Saturday and Monday then from there.”