Bristol Rovers manager John Ward admitted his players failed to rise to the occasion after they were well beaten by League 2 leaders Chesterfield at the Proact Stadium.
Goals at the start of each half floored Rovers and although Lee Brown struck a superb equaliser, Chesterfield were good value for a third victory in a week.
Gary Roberts was Rovers' tormentor, linking up with Eoin Doyle for Sam Morsy's early opener and, after Brown had curled in a 20-yard leveller, Roberts set up Ollie Banks just before the interval.,
The midfielder then sealed the points in the 47th minute when he sent Doyle through to squeeze a shot under Steve Mildenhall, who made a brilliant point-blank save to deny Banks a second.
Rovers are now just one point above the drop zone, and Ward said: "All the way through, we've not really looked as if we had the belief to win the game and that was evident from the beginning.
"We have been punished by a good team and that's the disappointment because as the season has gone on we have raised our game against top teams but we weren't able to do that here.
"We saw them play at York when they scored in the first few minutes and we said they would probably make a fast start so we had to stand strong and stay tall but in both halves we haven't done that.
"We've lost a game we could have done better in - I'm not saying we should have won it - but we ought to have contributed better. We had some decent movement and passing but the basic things have been missing and that's why we are where we are in League Two."
Chesterfield assistant manager Leam Richardson praised the way his team have performed to open up a three-point gap at the top of the table.
"The credit and plaudits must go to the players, they have applied themselves really well over the last few weeks. We have put a lot of demands on them and they have responded to a man so hopefully we will take that into the next few games," he said.
"I think people forget that in the summer we brought in quite a number of players and we kind of had a new team. We did a lot of work prior to Christmas and we've done our tactics so now it's good for momentum to kick in and the players have taken responsibility among themselves.
"I think in most sports momentum is massive and we've got a little bit of that and team spirit is good, so it's our job to maintain that. This has been a good day and it's been a good squad performance but the lads have got their feet on the ground."