Middleton: Our attitude wasn't right in the first half at Leeds
LIAM Middleton believes his Bristol players can afford no further slip-ups in 2012 if they are to go into the New Year in the Championship promotion fight, following yesterday's horror-show at Leeds.
Bristol, who trailed 27-0 after a woeful opening period, eventually lost 50-31 as they scored five second-half tries to at least leave Yorkshire with a bonus point.
But head coach Middleton, whose team have now won two and lost two matches this season, was unable to take any positives from the second-half fightback – and has demanded an instant reaction when Moseley visit the Memorial Stadium on Friday evening.
Four matches into the new campaign, Bristol are eighth in the table, albeit only four points behind fourth-placed Rotherham.
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Middleton said: "I'm not worried, because we have a chance to turn it around in five days' time – and we know now that we have to. We know now that we can't afford to lose many more games if we want to reach our goal of the top four.
"You have to be on your game all the time – and there are a number of teams picking up bonus points very quickly, and that will cover a couple of losses for them.
"This is going to be tough and we are now going to have to go right through to Christmas without slipping up at all really to be in the fight."
Asked if he would be demanding an emotional response from his players on Friday, Middleton said: "It would be unacceptable for us not to. We talked in the changing rooms just now about having some pride in the shirt – and that is linked to the values that we hold as a club.
"I'm not sure we reflected that on the pitch. That doesn't mean we are not proud of our shirt – but we didn't reflect it on the field and what we need to do at the Memorial Stadium on Friday is reflect our passion for playing for this club."
Bristol were simply left with too much to do after the opening 40 minutes, in which their defence was repeatedly breached by Leeds, who scored three tries en route to a 27-0 interval lead.
"I don't think it was complacency – I just think they were much more desperate than us in the first 20 minutes, and for us as a team that's unacceptable," said Middleton.
"The game reflected exactly what we were expecting from them – we were expecting a very emotional response from their narrow loss last week. We knew what was coming and we didn't deal with that.
"For me, this wasn't a technical or tactical issue, it was an issue of physicality, work and discipline – they were all things that were nothing to do with passing or kicking a rugby ball.
"It was an attitude issue, because we could have scored 31 points in the first half and 31 in the second half, but we only decided to do that after half-time, by which point it was too big a job to do.
"I'd say the first 20 minutes of the game is what lost us the game – the 20 minutes at the start was where we lost the contest."
And Middleton said that his players were now in absolutely no doubt as to what is required in order to reach the top four of the Championship and, with it, the promotion play-offs.
"I think as a group we've learned something," he said. "We keep saying week in, week out that this is a tough competition, and I think after the two wins against Doncaster and Pirates we thought that maybe it wasn't as hard as we thought it would be. Now we're backs to the walls for quite a long time to try to force our way into the top four, which is our goal. This is a tough competition – and if you take your eye off the ball for 20 minutes you're going to take a beating."