That defeat was tough to take, says Bristol Rugby head coach Liam Middleton
LIAM Middleton accepted Bristol are now "fighting for our lives" in terms of securing a Championship play-off spot after they suffered a humbling defeat at Moseley.
Bristol's search for a first win at Billesley Common continued as they were beaten 23-14 on Friday, missing out on even a bonus point as they failed to close the gap on fourth-placed Leeds, who hold a three-point lead over them.
They lost for the second game in a row – and the second time this season against lowly Moseley – as they inexplicably let slip a 14-point first-half lead.
And, with four Championship matches to play, three of which are away from the Memorial Stadium, head coach Middleton – who has come under fire from some supporters – admitted it will now be difficult to finish inside the top four.
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"There are only four games left and we're fighting for our lives – but this group of players has got a great spirit," said Middleton.
"They're a very positive group of players and we'll have to bounce back and we will bounce back. I think the guys will turn up for work this week and they'll be ready to go again.
"I don't think you can articulate it – it's a very tough one to take. We've had a couple of tough ones to take this season and we've bounced back from them and grown through them. But I can't articulate for you how our changing room feels at the moment."
Bristol performed woefully for the final hour at Moseley, failing to add to the 14-0 lead they built up inside the opening 20 minutes.
The key turning point was perhaps the decision to rule out Luke Eves' 27th-minute try for a forward pass, which had it stood would have seen Bristol into a 19-0 or 21-0 lead, while the visitors also had Redford Pennycook and Roy Winters yellow-carded and briefly played with 13 men.
"If Luke Eves' try hadn't been called back, we'd have been 21-0 up and I think it would have been a very different picture and a very different game," said Middleton. "But that wasn't to be and the momentum ran with them in the second half – they had the wind and things ran for them and didn't for us. It wasn't through a lack of effort or a lack of clarity on what we needed to do; we just made some errors in the wet conditions and, against the wind, it made it very difficult for us to claw back any score."
Asked if he felt the existing members of Bristol's squad were being negatively affected by the raft of recent player signing announcements for next season, Middleton said: "It's hard to say – I'd hope not, because this is a professional game.
"I'd hope not and I think the majority of guys are excited by the new signings. It's a difficult one to comment on but I'd hope they weren't."
Bristol now face trips to Jersey, London Scottish and Newcastle, plus a home game against Plymouth Albion, as they try to make up ground on Leeds, whose final four matches are against Moseley, Rotherham, Bedford and Nottingham.
"It's going to be very tough and it's going to test our resolve and test our spirit," said Middleton. "If we can come through that, we will be well tested for bigger things. But it's now one game at a time and I don't think we can look at a top-four place, we've just got to look at Jersey, which is what we've done – we haven't, at any point, looked too far ahead."