Aston Villa boss Unai Emery knows his side missed the opportunity to show they can be contenders at the top end of the Premier League after going down 2-0 at Nottingham Forest.
Villa were below their best as they lost for the first time in six games as Forest won thanks to goals from Ola Aina and Orel Mangala.
Emery’s side, who have enjoyed an excellent start to the season, could have moved above Arsenal and into the top four, but they fluffed their lines.
“Today was a key moment, if we could really be a contender to be in the top seven teams and we lost the opportunity,” Emery said. “I believe in the players, I know they can but we have to be very demanding. We can’t concede chances like we did today.
“If we want to be in the top seven teams we have to try to reduce the mistakes we made today.
“The key moment in 38 matches is every match. Today was a key moment to take some distance with the other teams and get in the top-four positions but we lost this opportunity, now the next match against Fulham next week is a challenge and it is again a key moment.”
Forest took a fifth-minute lead when Aina converted from 20 yards and they doubled their lead after a rare Emiliano Martinez error shortly after restart.
The Argentina World Cup winner won the Yashin Trophy, effectively making him the best goalkeeper in the world, at last week’s Ballon D’Or, but this effort will not be winning him any awards after he could only palm Martinez’s effort into his own net.
Emery added: “We are human and we can make a mistake. I never punish the mistakes of the players because I want to try to get the confidence of everybody, practising, trying to do everything well and when we are facing other teams we have to be better than them.
“But never punishing mistakes, not only for Emiliano, for everybody.”
Forest won for the first time since September 2 with an impressive performance where boss Steve Cooper won the tactical battle against Emery.
Villa played with a high line and Forest exposed them with their pace.
Cooper said: “The players massively followed the game plan. I said to them, I’ve got real gratitude to them for committing to the plan we put in place.
“We came up against a really in-form team with loads of good players and an excellent manager. You have to respect them, but you have to look at a plan where you can win.
“I’m really pleased that the goals we scored were from how we thought we could create chances. Once you get there, you want the players to back themselves to convert.
“Even though they had a lot of the ball, I never really thought we would concede. I never felt the goal was getting peppered. Defensively, we were excellent, both tactically and our defensive intuition backed up with desire and commitment.
“I’m really pleased with the players. They showed a great attitude to the plan. It was an incredible atmosphere to support the players’ performance. I thought today was a really good example of what we’ve become over the last couple of years, and I think that needs a bit of recognition.”