Adam Murray said a lack of games for many players in his new-look Mansfield Town side caught up with them on Saturday in a tired 3-0 defeat at second-placed Plymouth Argyle.
Murray has brought a lot of players into the side recently after long spells out of action and saw many of them hit a brick wall at Home Park.
“It was a game too far for us on Saturday,” he admitted. “We looked very sluggish and, to be fair to them, they picked us off at times.
“Over the bigger plan, this week was always going to be tough for us – Oxford away and Plymouth away with everything that comes with it.
“I think what caught us out more than anything was a decision we had to make before the game whether to stick with the same personnel.
“I think I counted we have seven in the team at the minute that weren’t playing at the start of the season, and they’ve played four, five, six games on the bounce now.
“People like Mal Benning and James Baxendale have not played for 18 months really, Jamie McGuire’s been out of it, Chris Beardsley’s been out of it, Scott Shearer’s been out of it, Lee Collins has been out of it, Matty Blair’s been out of it – it’s basically like a new team.
“It caught up with us on Saturday and we looked very jaded. Plymouth were fresh, they hadn’t played for two weeks.
“I know this sounds like excuses and I am not making excuses. They were better than us and that’s the bottom line.
“But we had people coming over to the bench asking for energy gels, they were running on empty.
“I get that and it will have done them the world of good to get games under their belts after not playing much football all season.”
He added: “I’d imagine they will come back in with some stiffness and some knocks and bangs. But we’ve got a free week which will give us time to freshen up and do a bit of work on the training ground ready for a big game on Saturday.
“We’ve moved on quickly from Plymouth. We’ve got some really big games coming up and we need to focus straight away on them.”
Stags are only lost back-to-back League games once all season and Murray said: “We’ve bounced back straight away every time we’ve taken one on the chin this season.
“I don’t think Saturday was as much a learning curve for the team – I just said to the boys afterwards, as individuals, to go away and look where you can get better as an individual.
“I enjoyed the game as it was a good leveller of where we are at and what we need to do. We are not quite there yet. We are not top three yet. But we are still a very good team.
“It was always going to be a big test for us and it proved that way. Plymouth were clinical, very ruthless and took their chances when they got them.
“I knew they were good, but they were better than I thought. They are not as good a footballing team as Oxford, but they are very efficient and ruthless. They are like a machine when they get going and it’s the X-Factor that told the difference.
“Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and I believe they will get promoted.”
He continued: “We had a few half-chances we didn’t take and, ultimately, if you don’t take your chances against the better teams, you get punished – and that’s what happened.
“I wouldn’t look back at Saturday and say it was a bad performance. I was really proud of the boys as they gave everything they had. They couldn’t have given any more. There were a few of them dead on their feet on Saturday.
“It wasn’t an awful performance. They were just better than us on the day. They have been in the top three all season for a reason – and that showed on Saturday.
“Reading a few bits and bobs after it, they said that was their best home performance of the season – and they chose us to do it against us.”