Jack Ross has urged his Hibernian side to ensure they take the right path at their “crossroads” and prevent their season from “drifting” towards mediocrity.
The Easter Road outfit were left stunned as goals from Nicky Clark, Ryan Edwards and Kieran Freeman earned Dundee United a richly-deserved 3-0 victory to move the Tangerines up to third in the cinch Premiership.
By contrast, Hibs, who finished third last term and were beaten Scottish Cup finalists, drop down to fifth and out of the top four for the first time in over a year.
Ross branded his players “lazy, slow and selfish” following an out-of-sorts display that left them facing up to rare back-to-back defeats.
And, with a huge encounter away to a struggling Aberdeen next on the fixture list, Ross is fully aware he needs a positive reaction from his team.
He said: “It’s not like them, but it shouldn’t deter from us getting criticism – and I mean ‘we’ because it’s always my responsibility and my preparation, instruction and team selection, etcetera.
“I don’t want us to be a team that thinks that (performance) is okay.
“The driver for me is to make us a Hibs team that consistently finishes in the area of the table we did last year – and doesn’t just have one season like that and then drifts.
“If we produce that kind of performance we will drift.
“We’ve received a lot of plaudits and deservedly so – and on the back of this we’ll take a lot of criticism and deservedly so.
“It’s the way in which we respond to that, both as staff and players that is important.
“You always come to crossroads in the season, unless you are lucky and win every week.
“I have had loads of them in my career, even since being here. You choose the path you want to take.
“We can’t affect this defeat but we can do something at Pittodrie next week.
“Over the course of the week we have to make sure we get back to producing the performances we have done.”
Clark curled in a superb opener from the edge of the box for United shortly before half-time and Edwards’ thumping header six minutes after the restart quickly killed off Hibs’ hopes of a comeback.
When Freeman added a late third it was rich reward for a fantastic performance from the visitors, for whom midfielder Declan Glass was playing for the first time in over a year following cruciate knee ligament surgery.
United manager Tam Courts said: “He probably wasn’t even match fit enough to actually start, but he is full of character and personality.
“His determination has been inspirational in terms of his journey back from his ACL and I just thought I’d give him his opportunity because I knew he could handle it.
“It was great to see him back on the pitch.”