TONY PULIS insists that Stoke City are facing a "five-game season" as they look to secure Premier League survival.
The Potters are now fifth from bottom in the table, three points above the relegation zone, after losing 2-0 to Champions-elect Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium.
A quickfire strike from Michael Carrick and a second half Robin van Persie penalty consigned Stoke to a third successive defeat and edged United closer to their 20th domestic League title.
Boss Pulis said: "It's a five-game season and it really starts for us now. There are eight or nine teams in the scrap and we have to make sure we're not in the bottom three.
"The one positive is that we've got Manchester United out of the way, and it's very important that we remain positive and stick together in a situation like this. I know it's difficult to do that, but we've got to stay focused because what's gone has gone.
"We've got good players, but I think we need a break. We've given two sloppy goals away today and against Aston Villa last weekend, we got ourselves back in the game and then Lowton smashes one into the top corner from 30 yards.
"We're just not getting the breaks, but that's what happens in runs like this."
United went in front after just four minutes when England international Carrick forced the ball home from a corner.
And Sir Alex Ferguson's men doubled their advantage midway through the second half when Andy Wilkinson was adjudged to have brought down Van Persie, who stepped up to slot home the resultant spot-kick.
Pulis added: "The first goal killed us; it was a poor goal to concede.
"That's the last two home games where we've conceded really quickly; the first time the opposition have been in our box.
"Then it settles down and when you consider the game is so tight, the second goal really kills us as well when we were having a go.
"If Andy stays on his feet he doesn't give the penalty away and the way Manchester United celebrated the second goal you could see how important it was to them to win the game.
"It was a strange game - I didn't think there were a lot of chances for either side and United scored two goals from set-plays, from a corner and a penalty.
"Jon Walters had a good chance and there were one or two other opportunities, but it was a strange game in that way."