Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards says the club's first season back in the Premiership has been made tougher by a spate of retirements.
Richards became Falcons boss in the summer of 2012 and oversaw an immediate return to England's top flight.
Last week, lock Carlo del Fava became the fourth player to retire since the North Easterners won promotion in May.
"With the guys we've lost in the last few months, it's made it a difficult year," Richards told BBC Newcastle.
"On top of the retirements there's been some long-term injuries too, so it has been hard."
Newcastle have lost their last eight league matches, with their last win coming against London Irish on 27 October.
That run almost ended at Harlequins on Saturday, but having trailed 14-12 with four minutes left, Quins kicked two penalties to clinch an 18-14 victory.
"It is gutting to lose so late when you've played really well," said Richards.
"But I was really proud with how the boys played with real heart."