Promotion-chasing Rotherham United are paying the price for their winter heroics, believes manager Paul Warne.
The Millers have lost their last two matches, against relegation candidates Rochdale and MK Dons, after putting together a 14-game unbeaten run which lifted them to fourth in the League One.
Warne - who takes his squad to another lowly-placed side, Northampton Town, tomorrow - reckons the fatigue factor has played a part in the March downturn.
“The winter months are always harder to play in,” the boss said. “I know people will be reading and thinking ‘boo hoo’, but it’s true. The pitches are softer and the training ground is softer and you get more tired.
“I think that, because we have been on such a brilliant run, the majority of games have been played by the same players, and it has only been in the last couple of weeks where I have seen a noticeable drop in our intensity.”
No side managed to topple Rotherham for more than three months until they slipped up 1-0 at home to Dale last weekend and were beaten 3-2 at MK Dons in midweek.
“Rochdale came here and definitely played better than us,” Warne said. “I have no excuses there. Collectively, they were really on our case and we did not have the spark we’d had in recent weeks. That happens to every team in every country and I am not surprised at that.”
The Millers took an early lead at Stadium MK and looked set to go on and win before the Dons hit back to record their first league victory of 2018.
“I was hoping for a bounce-back on Tuesday,” Warne admitted. “I also said to the lads that there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. Maybe we thought, at 1-0 up, we were going to cruise it.”
The manager could make changes tomorrow to freshen up his team who remain in fourth spot and are on course to secure a play-off berth.
Right-back Josh Emmanuel, midfielder Matt Palmer, wingers Jon Taylor and Ryan Williams and striker David Ball will all be hoping for the call.
With 10 games of the regular season left to play, the Millers are eight points clear of seventh-placed Plymouth Argyle.
“I don’t think collectively we have had a massive dip,” Warne said. “I think we have just played two good teams. I know, with their positions, other people don’t think that is the case.
“You can always criticise your own team when you lose. But you sometimes have to hold your own hand up. I am not going to criticise my team too much.”
Northampton are one place above the drop zone after drawing their last three games.