Cardiff City boss Russell Slade read the riot act to his players at Norwich City

Cardiff Manager Russell Slade read the riot act to his players during a 3-2 Championship defeat at N

Cardiff Manager Russell Slade read the riot act to his players during a 3-2 Championship defeat at Norwich City. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Russell Slade warned his Cardiff City players to cut out the sluggish starts or forget about a late Championship play-off push.

The Bluebirds rallied against Norwich City after they went in at half-time 3-0 down following a weak defensive effort capped by Peter Whittingham's spurned spot-kick when Adam Le Fondre tumbled under Carlos Cuellar's challenge.

Slade tore into his side to spark a marked second-half improvement, but it proved too little, too late.

'Yes we were better after the break, but maybe that means I need to speak to them before the game in the manner I had to at half-time more often,' he said. 'There were strong words shared, that's for sure. We can't make it so hard for ourselves.

'I called for a response from the players and their reaction was excellent – but it's tough when you go three down. The second-half was in total contrast, but we've been here before when we've played the top teams.

'There are two things I can do – we either have to improve defensively or we change personnel. It's about the staff and the players trying to resolve things now, particularly away from home. We are making it really difficult for ourselves at times and it has to improve on that front. It's the inconsistency that concerns us.'

Slade labelled Cardiff's first-half defensive offering as the weakest since he took over.

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'Defensively it was poor. Probably our poorest 45 minutes,' he said. 'In the first half I thought we were a threat going forward and we could have scored three goals ourselves, including the penalty.

'We had one cleared off the line, missed the penalty and (Alex) Revell has leaned back and fired one over from close range.

'But our defending was the worst I have seen since I have been here. We had an extra man in midfield so we should have been nice and solid, but that was anything but the case. We would need to have scored four goals to beat Norwich and six at Bournemouth so that tells you where the problem lies.'

The Bluebirds face a daunting league trip to Middlesbrough tomorrow and Slade knows they can ill afford to lose any more ground with his squad already 10 points behind sixth-placed Watford.

'Of course it is still possible (to reach the play-offs). If you are sensible and a neutral you have seen in this game a side near the top six and a side who have pushed them all the way,' said Slade.

'We know we can match the top sides for periods, we've shown that and shown a little control in doing that too, it's now about managing it for a decent period of time in the 90 minutes. That's not what we've done again.

'We have seen it before, at Brentford and Bournemouth, where we have left ourselves with too much to do and been 3-1 and 3-0 down in both those games and we've come back into it. We came back into this one, we needed a reaction as a group and we got an excellent reaction. We matched Norwich for a spell.

'We'll regroup and travel to Middlesbrough on Tuesday, looking for the right reaction – I want Cardiff City supporters to witness a better, more competitive performance. That's the very least I will demand.'