Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainen said he and his players fully deserved criticism from protesting fans after a 3-1 home defeat by Hamilton left them staring relegation in the face.
United failed to capitalise on nearest rivals Kilmarnock’s early defeat at Inverness and failed to test Michael McGovern at all during an abject first-half display.
Grant Gillespie fired Accies ahead from 20 yards inside 12 minutes and Carlton Morris netted twice on the rebound after the break as McGovern kept United out until Simon Murray netted a late consolation.
United remain eight points adrift at the foot of the Ladbrokes Premiership with four games left and could be relegated against city rivals Dundee.
Some fans clapped United players off the pitch but about 200 gathered outside the main entrance at Tannadice to protest. Their anger was mostly directed at chairman Stephen Thompson, but Paatelainen accepted any that came the way of the playing and coaching staff.
When asked whether United’s fate was done and dusted, he said: “Very, very close to that, absolutely. Of course mathematically it’s still possible but we are not stupid.
“Our supporters are out there in numbers protesting, not happy with the situation and I totally understand that, totally agree with that, and totally accept that.
“We deserve all that because it was so poor. It’s been a long season, it’s been long-suffering for the supporters, and for the players as well.
“I cannot understand why and how so many simply don’t respond in the manner that we need to. First half I didn’t see any fight, any real determination to make things happen, close the opponent and get the upper hand, instead of chasing shadows.
“The way the match started, I could not believe my eyes. Winning this match meant so much more to Hamilton players.
“Whenever there has been an opportunity to put Kilmarnock under a little bit under pressure, we have fallen short and we have fallen flat.
“You have to control the ball and make things happen but first and foremost you need to stop the opponent making things happen. We were nowhere near the aggression level we should have been.”
United could be relegated at Dens Park on May 2 if Kilmarnock beat Hamilton next Saturday.
Paatelainen said: “If we perform like that, we won’t get anywhere near Dundee and their strikers will cause loads of damage.”
The former United striker is determined to rebuild United in the summer but he admitted some culpability over their plight, after replacing Jackie McNamara in October.
He added: “I want to build a new team that is much much stronger than that because this squad is simply not strong enough.
“I’m absolutely determined to work and make things better but at this moment the situation is very negative and I don’t think we should say too much. Disappointment is so vast.
“We realised early doors that the majority of the playing squad were possibly not yet ready for the Premiership. It’s a fact.
“Maybe they are too soft, maybe simply tactically they don’t realise what it takes. You have seen the matches. Defensively and offensively, we haven’t been sharp enough at all.
“Of course, I don’t cut myself out of it at all. I have been here few months and made mistakes, definitely. So I am in the same boat as the players.”