BRETT Ratten concedes St Kilda's quest for finals in 2021 is all but over following its "unacceptable" loss to Adelaide on Saturday night.
The Saints led 36-0 during the second quarter in Cairns and maintained the same advantage early in the third term before squandering the lead and ultimately the four premiership points.
It leaves them with a 5-8 record ahead of the bye, two games plus significant percentage outside the top eight.
And the news gets even worse for the Saints, who will lose young gun Hunter Clark after coming off second-best in a huge collision with Crow David Mackay.
The 22-year-old had surgery on Sunday to repair multiple fractures to his jaw and will miss between 6-8 weeks.
Following the six-point loss, a disconsolate Ratten said there was little hope of his side replicating its 2020 march to September.
"It's going to be an unbelievable result for us to make it," Ratten said.
"Especially with our percentage, and the quality of players we've got out, that doesn’t make it easy.
"It might not be our turn, but we've got to make sure our expectations moving forward are pushing to the highest levels.
"We've got to improve on this end to tonight and last week and keep building on that.
"We'll find out a lot about our list and our personnel this year and that will hopefully put us in good stead for what's to come."
Ratten was dismayed by the Saints' second-half fade-out against the Crows.
Adelaide kicked the final seven goals of the match, including three in the decisive fourth quarter in which they had the ball camped inside 50 for much of the term.
Most of the Saints' problems stemmed from being beaten up around the ball, losing contested possessions by 23 in the final quarter alone.
SAINTS v CROWS Full match coverage and stats
"That was hard to go through and especially the way we went through it," Ratten said.
"We're just not strong enough and hard enough. You can fall away in an area, but you just don't get beaten by minus 23. It's unacceptable.
"We won a lot of contested ball through the game and then it disappeared. We didn't find a way, we didn't fight hard enough.
"Tonight's conditions were not about how beautiful you could kick the ball, it was how high you could roll your sleeves up. We didn't do that."
Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks was all smiles after his team took until the final minute to take its first lead of the night and seal its fifth win of the season.
Nicks said the sickening second-quarter collision between Mackay and Clark was the turning point for his team.
He said the ferocity of Mackay's contest helped spark the lethargic Crows.
"We don't want to see anybody get injured," Nicks said.
"My initial thought … it was a genuine contest. I thought both players were going for the ball.
"If you talk about a moment in the game for a senior player to stand up, we hadn't scored at that point … and the way 'D-Mac' attacked it, we ended up winning contested ball by 23 for the rest of the game, we scored nine goals to four maybe for the rest of the game.
"It was a real key moment in the turnaround. Guys regrouped and put their shields up and went to work.
"I've got no doubt when you see a teammate put his body on the line, which both players did, it gives you belief."
Nicks said despite giving up the hefty lead, he had no doubt his team would claw its way back, although conceded the gripping final stages were almost too much to bear.
"It got slightly frustrating as the clock ticked down," he said.
"We dominated and it felt like it was only a matter of time before we'd get our noses in front, but we couldn't quite get there and the Saints defended well."
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