As Leicester City’s reign as FA Cup holders came to a tame end, humiliated 4-1 in the fourth round by second-tier local rivals Nottingham Forest, Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers was in no mood to hold back.
“Our players have to look at themselves in the mirror and prove they are good enough to be here,” said Rodgers.
“A lot of players have to improve. It was an awful performance, I have to apologise to the fans, we needed physicality and authority and lacked it.
“There was a lack of hunger and you get destabilised when you make errors. That’s the first time since I’ve been here that I was embarrassed.”
‘Time up’ for some Leicester players?
It is a far cry from May, when Leicester beat Chelsea 1-0 thanks to Youri Tielemans’ brilliant 25-yard strike as the Foxes won the FA Cup for the first time in their history.
In an attempt to inspire his players, Rodgers said he had brought the trophy into a team meeting earlier this week “so they could see what we went through last year and provide that motivation”.
But, at a packed, boisterous City Ground and in the first East Midlands derby between these two clubs in almost eight years, Forest – aided by some woeful Leicester defending – fully deserved a win that could have been by a wider margin.
The Foxes only had two shots on target all match and conceded three times in a crazy nine-minute first-half spell, with goals from Philip Zinckernagel, Brennan Johnson and Joe Worrall.
A goalkeeping error from Brice Samba gifted Leicester a goal back through Kelechi Iheanacho, but the three-goal lead was restored when Djed Spence grabbed the hosts’ fourth.
Rodgers, who has guided Leicester to successive fifth-placed finishes in the Premier League although they sit 10th this season, says complacency has crept in among his players and changes need to be made, saying the “time could be up” for some of his squad.
“Too many players think they are top players but are a long way off,” added Rodgers. “Some players may have achieved everything they can here.
“I watch training every day and for some it’s everything they could dream of, they’ve won the FA Cup – that might be it [for them], but it’s not for me.”
Ex-England defender Martin Keown, speaking on BBC One, said: “It’s back to the drawing board for Brendan Rodgers.
“He wants to see better performances and they can’t keep shipping goals – it’s been a disaster defensively.”
‘It feels like Forest have something good’
Leicester were the second Premier League team Forest have knocked out of this year’s FA Cup after a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the third round and the derby success continues the remarkable rise under boss Steve Cooper.
He was only appointed in September, with the club bottom of the Championship and with only four points from eight matches.
But Cooper, who took Swansea into the play-offs in both the past two years and won the Under-17 World Cup with England before that, has turned things around at Forest.
They are now eighth in the Championship, two points off the play-offs, and with supporters dreaming of a return to the Premier League after 23 years out of the top flight.
“We’re more than just getting started, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Cooper.
“It will remain to be seen how far we can go, but we have tried to commit to a way of working and a way of playing by having a work ethic that matches the culture of this club.
“We’re in the middle of trying to build something. We were excellent and I am really pleased for the boys and proud of the club.”
Former England captain Alan Shearer, speaking on BBC One, said: ” As soon as Forest got the first goal there was only one team going to win it.
“There were so many impressive performances, even from the substitutes who came on. Well done, Forest. Well done, Steve Cooper. It feels like they have got something good going on.
“The atmosphere he has generated at Forest is there for everyone to see – it was magnificent all afternoon.”