Johannesburg - John Plumtree blamed the poor start made by his Sharks side in Saturday's Super Rugby encounter against the Bulls in Durban as the reason for their fifth loss of the season.
The hosts were 15-3 down inside the opening 15 minutes after tries by Francois Hougaard and Bakkies Botha.
They continued to struggle throughout and were especially poor with their handling, all of which contributed to a 32-23 scoreline, with Morné Steyn kicking 22 points for the defending champions.
Defeat left the Sharks hovering in seventh place on the overall table and needing to win all four of their remaining games to have a good chance of making the play-offs.
Coach Plumtree said: "We just didn't defend well enough and in the first 15 minutes we were two tries down.
"That was disappointing because in the past we've tackled a lot better than that. But allowing them to score after three phases was unacceptable.
"That was the biggest thing and the side lost a bit of confidence early. Obviously we were under pressure at lineout time again, so really allowing them that start was hard work.
"A side like the Bulls, when they gain possession and put you in the corners…you got to come from a long way out, so it was pretty disappointing."
Although the Sharks did fight back after the break - they outscored the Bulls 17-9 in the second period - they continued to concede needless penalties and were duly punished by the boot of Steyn.
"We were giving away penalties and they were driving us to give away penalties so when we pegged them back, they just got another three points," Plumtree added.
"So we just couldn't get to that seven or eight points behind them that would have allowed us to launch a real go at them.
"Basically the plan we had of beating them, we could not execute because we were too poor. Defensively we were poor, we haven't been like that all year."
However, Plumtree still felt things could have been different if Charl McLeod had scored 12 minutes from the end with the try line gaping.
Instead there was umpteenth error from the Durban side and Plumtree added: "If we scored there it would have been seven or eight points away from them.
"That was a big moment, so we just lacked a little bit of composure around the fringes ad weren't accurate enough."
Opposite number Frans Ludeke also felt the first half was crucial in setting up a seventh win of the season.
"I think we laid the foundation in the first half, solid defence forced a lot of turnovers and we were accurate when we got into their half, getting the points and building the innings.
"The second half was all about being smart tactically and also making sure when you get there then adding the points and building."
Victory left them three points behind the hosts on the overall standings and also needing to win their last four games if they are to retain hopes of defending the title.
"You can never talk for the opposition, but for us we're still in that (must win) position," Ludeke added.
"Nothing has changed, we did what we had to…a good win and we're very happy."