Ronald Koeman has suggested that his Everton squad's lack of confidence is making them "afraid and scared" to play the attacking football he knows they're capable of.
The Toffees looked on course to put their Atalanta nightmare in the Europa League behind them with a 2-1 victory over Apollon Limassol on Thursday, but a late leveller from the Cypriot visitors stunned Koeman and his charges at Goodison Park.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo after proceedings had ended, the Dutchman bristled with annoyance as he explained why his stars were so insistent on playing safe passes and didn't look much of a threat going forward - particularly in the first half.
He lamented: “You saw the first 20 minutes. You saw enough. The way we started – every ball was back instead of playing forwards. Analyse the first goal.
“We gave away an easy ball and we didn't defend the striker. How can you get your confidence back in a difficult period when the team is struggling?
“The players are under the level they can bring. They have difficulties on the ball. Then it's 2-1 and you have more chances to win the game and you draw the game.
“That is not helping confidence. It is another difficult moment."
Koeman, who said the "positive" performance of substitute Nikola Vlasic was something of a plus point from the game, also commented on claims that the Blues' talented squad were not doing enough to excite their supporters.
Small sections of Evertonians are already calling for the 54-year-old to be relieved of his managerial duties after a turbulent start to the season, and have hit out at a number of underperforming players in recent weeks.
Koeman, though, added that his players were up for the fight and just needed to be more positive when in possession.
He said: “I cannot say they are not running or fighting but they are afraid of playing.
“That is difficult. In the situation we are in, and yes I can tell it, we are missing seven or eight players.
"That's too much in the situation we are in. We had two wins and another today would have made a difference. It is in the head of the players.
“As a manager you can help the team and select the team but when the whistle goes you are not the one who plays the ball back. It is about giving the players options but we are scared to play forward.
“Sometimes there are not enough options for the forwards but in that case play the ball into the channels instead of the goalkeeper. We know the fans like us to go forward, not back, back, back. Then it is difficult to create chances.”