Preston North End boss Simon Grayson urged his players to shape-up if they want to play a part in the promotion chase after losing 1-0 at Swindon Town.
The Robins scored from the penalty spot through Michael Smith after 56 minutes after Australian midfielder Neil Kilkenny had fouled Ben Gladwin.
Grayson's men enjoyed the better of the first half and threatened when Joe Garner's header was parried away after 31 minutes by Wes Foderingham.
But Town stood firm in the second half to leave the former Leeds manager frustrated with his side's indifferent performance.
Grayson said: "We huffed and puffed really and didn't get going until we made the substitutions.
"We had too many players who were off it right through the team and when you have that many players off of their game, you are going to find yourself under pressure.
"Too many of our players did not win their individual battles and we did not produce a collective team performance.
"It is down to individuals to make sure they produce performances and the biggest incentive now is to make sure they are in that team if we get into the play-off positions."
Preston succumbed to just their fifth defeat of the season, while Swindon recorded their first league victory in eight matches.
County Ground striker Miles Storey spurned a golden opportunity for his side after 29 minutes but his effort was parried by Lilywhites goalkeeper Declan Rudd.
Mark Cooper's men improved in the second half and both Massimo Luongo and Yaser Kasim went close from distance.
Their fortunes improved when Kilkenny upended Gladwin in the box, forcing referee Iain Williamson to point to the spot for January signing Smith to convert his sixth of the season.
Grayson made a triple substitution to try and get back into the game but opposing keeper Foderingham made a string of late saves to ensure his side deservedly took the three points.
Cooper said: "I am pleased for the players because they have taken a lot of stick over the past month and they deserve a little bit of credit.
"We played well against an experienced side with a former England international in it.
"Michael Smith for me was outstanding; I thought he had his best game for the club.
"I thought we played well in the first half and we wanted to start on the front foot and take the game to them and we did just that.
"We have a young side and it will probably be younger next year but that is the way we are going. Hopefully we can enjoy our football now and start to play with some freedom."