David Martindale believes trying to secure a top-six finish has had a detrimental impact on Livingston’s form.
The West Lothian side have lost six of their last eight games to go from near certainties to finish in the top half of the cinch Premiership table to outsiders.
Martindale, speaking after his team’s 3-0 defeat at Motherwell, says talk of reaching the top six or qualifying for Europe is now banned among the squad.
He said: “I couldn’t care [about the top six]. As a group we had a primary objective to stay in the league.
“Trying to get top six has had an adverse effect. Up until matchday 22 I think we were one of most consistent sides outside of the Old Firm.
“From matchday 23 until today I don’t think it’s been good enough. I’m the leader, I set the standards and put the team out so I have to take the responsibility.
“So talk of top six and European football is gone. We need to get back to what got us success.
“We were difficult to beat, we weren’t shipping sloppy goals. We’re doing that as a group now so it’s up to me to find a way to start winning games and to stop losing sloppy goals.
“I’ll take the last two defeats on the chin. It comes from me and I’m man enough to admit that and hopefully we can accept that going into the St Johnstone game.
“We have no divine right to pick points up at Motherwell. You have to apply yourself and graft but I’ve got to get the shape right. With hindsight I probably got that wrong over the past two games.”
Kevin van Veen scored two of Motherwell’s goals – Max Johnston got the other – to take his tally to 22 for the season.
He was denied a hat-trick only by the offside flag and Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell backed the Dutchman to keep adding to his tally.
He said: “Kevin is disappointed he didn’t get his hat-trick, which is a brilliant example for young players to see that continued motivation.
“I think he will be recognised by many throughout the country but the important thing is the team is being recognised. But ask him and he will think he can score more than 22.”
Motherwell were in relegation danger when Kettlewell succeeded Stephen Hammell as manager in February but are now on the cusp of the top half.
He added: “Sometimes we think that was never the situation [facing relegation] but it was and it wasn’t that long ago.
“I told the players to remember how it felt when we were bottom and people were on your case.”