We're still in the race to go up, insists Bristol Rugby head coach Liam Middleton
HEAD coach Liam Middleton remains convinced Bristol will bounce back from Friday night's disappointing 23-19 reverse against promotion rivals Nottingham to reach the Championship play-offs.
A first home setback since the end of September means the Memorial Stadium side still have plenty to do to clinch a top-four finish with only five rounds of regulation games to go.
Middleton said: "We're still in the race and we can still push on.
"This was always going to be a big game ... we held dominance and control for a long time, but these matches come down to tiny margins.
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"We probably made two errors in the game, but unfortunately they were errors that allowed the opposition to capitalise and punish us.
"I'm incredibly proud of our performance, I thought we performed very well in a lot of facets of the game.
"And the effort and the work rate that the guys put in will pay us back in the coming weeks, we must not lose sight of what they done.
"The way the guys played really pleased me, and because of that they can hold their heads high, we're playing some very nice rugby and we're going to be a difficult side to stop in the coming weeks. This is a team that fights hard, we'll keep fighting, we're still in this."
Despite being far from their best, Bristol could still have avenged a 63-7 humbling at Nottingham in November. But fly-half Tristan Roberts, who was drafted into the side at short notice after Adrian Jarvis failed to recover from a head injury suffered in the previous weekend's excellent victory at Bedford, missed three penalty chances.
And the home side were also left to ponder a try that got away – centre Luke Eves knocking on with the line in sight – as well as the defensive mistake that allowed Nottingham to coast in for their second score, just after Bristol had established a 12-7 advantage.
George Watkins, whose late solo try briefly brought Bristol to within a point before James Arlidge landed his third penalty for Nottingham, said: "With 20 minutes to go, it felt as if we were in a position to kick on.
"Unfortunately, just after our penalty (to go 12-7 up) they scored ... if we had kept that try out it was a different story."
The winger tried to take the positives as he looked ahead to Bristol's next game, away to Moseley on Friday.
He added: "If mistakes are going to happen then it's better now rather than in a semi-final or final ... we can look at the video, take out what we did wrong and next time round have a pretty solid game plan and solid base. They were never going to come here and lie down ... we're disappointed to lose our home record, but we've just got to put it behind us and look ahead to the next week."