PAUL THOMPSON labelled aspects of his Sheffield Steelers team's performance "pathetic" after they were beaten yet again by champions-elect Cardiff Devils.
The latest Elite League clash between the two was effectively over by the end of a first period in which the visitors - now 10 ,points clear of nearest rivals Manchester Storm - scored all three of their goals.
The Steelers fought back hard but, after having a Mathieu Roy effort ruled out for interference, couldn't find a way past Rotherham-born goaltender Ben Bowns.
Thompson couldn't hide his disappointment afterwards, chiefly frustrated with the way his players handed the game to rivals he considers the best team in the UK "by a country mile."
The hosts couldn't have got off to a worst start when Joey Martin put the Devils ahead after just 30 seconds, the Devils waltzing through the Steelers' lines with ease.
A second arrived eight minutes later when Joey Haddad cut out a pass from Mathieu Roy, skated around the back of Ervins Mustukovs before setting up Pope to fire home from 20 yards out.
The killer blow came at 16.30 when Andrew Hotham was free to tap home the puck into an empty net after Mark Richardson's initial shot had beaten Mustukovs before cannoning back off the post.
"Cardiff Devils are a good side," said Thompson. "They are the best team in the league by a country mile.
"But if you give them a 3-0 lead and make recreational hockey player decisions - positionally, with the puck, turnovers - teams like that are going to punish you. So I'm very disappointed that in the first period.
"It's got to be about focus and we've all got to be part of that. Normally, away from the puck, we're strong, but we get chasing and are like rabbits in headlights - big turns, not stopping and starting, not having good stick positioning - it was pathetic.
"We pushed back hard in the second period but we didn't score a goal. I think the Roy goal should have counted but the referee said he blew the whistle because Marquardt interfered with the goalie but he was cross-checked into Bowns by a defenceman so maybe that would have energised the room because we were coming hard at that point.
"But we know what they're about, we know they're a good team - but they don't cut corners and they don't take nights off and that is why they're going to win the league."