Alan Curbishley said "it is all to play for still" despite the unquestioned disappointment of a third straight 4-0 reverse at the end of a "dreadful week".
West Ham United went to Tottenham Hotspur on the back of two losses to Champions League contenders and all concerned had hoped for an upturn at White Hart Lane. However, those hopes were dashed on Sunday once Dimitar Berbatov was able to score two quickfire headers early in the game and Luis Boa Morte had been dismissed just before half-time. The loss allowed the eleventh-placed hosts to close the gap on their visitors, in tenth, to five points with nine to play.
Curbishley's men are back at the Boleyn Ground next Saturday against Blackburn Rovers - who just happen to be the team that United faced with nine matches to go last season. At that point, the club only had 20 points from 29 games rather than the 40 they have now but a 2-1 win against Rovers was to kickstart a run of seven wins from the final nine games. Expectations are different this time around, as a home win would move the club to within three points of the team currently in seventh.
"We have put ourselves in a position where we expect to finish in the top half," Curbishley said. "We have just lost three games on the spin and we still find ourselves there. It is all to play for still and come along this weekend ... We have got to bounce back, the players have got to bounce back - we all have. It is only them that can go out and do it. It doesn't look as if anybody else is going to become available at the moment so we have got to get on with it."
There were some small positives for the noisy travelling support - not least the return of Scott Parker for a 75-minute run-out that was his first action since 29 December. Similarly, Bobby Zamora came through his first start since 28 August and showed up well alongside Dean Ashton before being switched to the left flank to cover for the absent Boa Morte. It is at the back, though, where Curbishley wants to see a reaction.
"Defensively we have been very good all season and in one week it has been blown apart. I thought we started quite brightly. I didn't see much in it but another set play has gone in. A free header [and] Berbatov didn't even have to jump. Straight after that, [he scored] another one. It is difficult to come back from it. Obviously we couldn't." Curbishley said the sending off for two yellow cards "killed us off again" and by the time Gilberto and Darren Bent scored late on, the points were already lost.
The manager added: "What could go wrong, is going for wrong for us. It has been a dreadful week, we have just got to regroup and get on ... We knew it was going to be a tough week - Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs - but when you let in a goal early like we did today, and let one in at Liverpool, that has not been us all season. There has been a lot of criticism that we haven't scored too many but let's go back to some clean sheets. That is what we need."
Curbishley could not fault the commitment shown throughout the side, many of whom have figured in all or virtually every one of the games this season. "I have got no complaints about the players," he said. "They have been performing week in, week out. We have just had a horrible week and we have got to get back to where we were.
"We have played two Champions League teams on top of their game. I think Newcastle got the same taste yesterday and I am sure one or two others will ... when we get a fully-fit squad then the expectation level should rise. Because that's what we did in the summer - bring together a squad that could challenge the top spots."