Owen Coyle says Bolton must prepare for a "dogfight" after defeat by Fulham left them at the bottom of the league.
Coyle's team face fellow strugglers Blackburn on Tuesday in a crucial game and are still five points from safety.
"There must be a point where the players stand up and be counted where they show their ability and their character," said the Bolton manager.
"Make no mistake we are in dogfight now. We've played more than just four or five games."
Fulham scored twice through Clint Dempsey and Bryan Ruiz in the space of two first-half minutes to earn a win which propelled them to 11th in the table.
But for Bolton it marked their fifth defeat on the bounce and their seventh loss in eight games.
"The penny has to drop," said Coyle of his players. "It certainly has with me and with the 600 supporters here today getting behind the team because of the passion they show for the football club. The players must share that passion and be ready to give better performances.
"We know the problems we have had, but the group we have are good enough to give better performances than they have given to this point."
Asked if the game against Blackburn was one his team could not afford to lose, Coyle replied: "With every game now when you've been on a disappointing run as ourselves, when you've lost, the next game becomes even bigger.
"I can understand why people are tagging the games as must win, but the bottom line is we have to get a reasonable return of points.
"That's the nature of football and that's what we will be judged on."
The visitors did have chances to score at Craven Cottage, through Mark Davies and Fabrice Muamba, but they could not find a way past Fulham keeper David Stockdale.
And Coyle said both goals at Craven Cottage were preventable.
"The game hinged on a 30-second period," he explained. "We gave up our wingers to make us more solid in the middle of the park and we were comfortable in the game. For the [first] goal it was a header that we should clear.
"Whether it's because we are fragile because of the disappointing run we have been on, we gave the ball away. It's an exquisite finish from a top player, but we're caught with the ball... and have paid a heavy price for that 30 seconds."
Coyle added: "We have the opportunity to address that and we have three massive games coming up between now and the turn of the year. We have to go and get points in those games. Points in those games will give us a foothold.
"Confidence is key in football. I've had seven years of nothing but success, and there are always times when you are going to be tested and that is one of those periods."