Jim Magilton said Finn Harps' tactical set-up "intimidated" Dundalk, with a half-time dressing down required to spark a response from the struggling Lilywhites in Donegal.
Sporting director Magilton, who is serving as interim manager as the club continues its search for a new boss, was hugely frustrated by a lacklustre first-half performance in a 1-1 draw at Finn Park on Friday night.
A team bonding trip to Belfast last weekend which broke Covid-19 protocols saw Dundalk attract more negative attention but it was expected the players would respond on the pitch in Ballybofey.
It didn't materialise in a first 45 minutes that saw Harps force the issue, with Barrry McNamee thumping in a stunning opener.
Ole Erik Midtskogen did equalise in an improved second-half showing, but Magilton was left disappointed overall.
"In the second half we created more chances; in the first half we were abysmal," he told RTÉ Sport.
"Finn Harps were so much better than us in every department. We were lazy in lots of ways, standards were so poor, we couldn't pass the ball. It took a half-time rollicking if you like to really get our game together, to get focused on the game.
"The second half was definitely better. We got on the front foot, we asked more questions, we played with more intensity and created some decent chances.
"Everything in the build-up to the game in terms of training was very positive. Everything in the changing room before the game was sharp.
Finn Harps and Dundalk shared the spoils in their Premier Division encounter - catch the highlights here and match report here https://t.co/UOLUCruKkO #RTESoccer #RTESport #WatchLOI pic.twitter.com/tp6EPjuTu7— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) May 14, 2021
"I have to give Finn Harps credit. They set up tactically very well to stop us playing, and they did. It intimidated us without any shadow of a doubt. We weren't brave enough.
"We didn't have enough people who were brave enough to take the ball. We didn't pass the ball with any real accuracy or care. It was poor, it was really poor."
Expanding more on what was said at the break, Magilton added: "The rally cry at half-time was, 'have to do better, you've got five, ten minutes to show us you actually want to go and play'. And we did, we came out with a better sense of urgency in our play, but overall, very disappointing.
"You have to pick yourself up. There are no easy games in this league and that's evident to me having come back into this league. Every team will give you problems. If you don't have problems solvers in your team it makes it very difficult."
Dundalk are now sixth with 11 points from 11 games. If Shamrock Rovers beat Derry City this evening they'll be 18 points clear of the Lilywhites before the two clash at Oriel Park next Friday, with rumours circulating that fans are planning a protest against the owners at that game.
"Fans will support the club no mater what," Magilton said. "This is a difficult time. Supporters will stand by their football club. We are working extremely hard to try and put things right. The only way you can do that is when you cross the white line, put on that shirt and stand up and be counted."
When asked if he had any sense of when a new manager may be appointed, Magilton replied: "I hope it's sooner rather than later, I have to be honest."