Reading manager Nigel Adkins has called on his players to "embrace the challenge" of avoiding relegation.
A 2-0 home defeat by Southampton leaves the Royals bottom of the Premier League table, seven points from safety with only six games remaining.
"There are two options - you can either hide away or face up to reality and look forward to what you have to do," said Adkins.
"You can't throw the towel in. You have to get up and go again. "
A goal in each half from Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana consigned Reading to their seventh consecutive league defeat.
Adkins, who was sacked by Southampton in January and replaced by Mauricio Pochettino, praised his team's "good energy" and felt they had been on the wrong end of some questionable refereeing decisions.
Mike Jones denied the hosts a penalty when Hal Robson-Kanu went down under a challenge from Jos Hooiveld and ignored pleas for a foul on Reading's keeper when Rodriguez raised his foot to poke Rickie Lambert's pass beyond Adam Federici for the opening goal.
"We had a penalty shout and then they scored a goal which maybe on another day the referee gives as a foul," said Adkins.
"At the end of the day, we've not got the decisions or the result. We are where we are - the lads have put a big effort in but the reality is we are at the wrong end of the division and we've lost a game we needed to win."
Reading's task is rendered even harder by a goal difference of -27, the worst in the league, but Adkins is refusing to accept defeat.
"We can't shy away from it. We're in a difficult situation but we have to work on winning games of football," he said.
While Reading's worries deepen, Southampton's have eased after a third successive victory that takes them seven points clear of trouble.
Pochettino, however, refused to be drawn on whether his team were effectively safe.
"My players did very well and we were really pleased with victory against a team fighting relegation but our goal still remains to focus on the next game," he said.
"It was very important because we hadn't won away in nine games so we were very pleased with the result.
"Overall, especially in the second half, we played really well and fully deserved the three points."