STEVIE CRAWFORD wants his players to "show they're hurting" after enduring the "lowest point" of his Dunfermline tenure on Tuesday night.

After throwing away a two-goal lead to lose at promotion play-off rivals Dundee on Saturday, the Pars capitulated and suffered their worst defeat to Raith Rovers in 38 years to not only slip six points behind their second-top rivals but outside the top four for the first time this season.

The 5-1 rout – their heaviest against the Kirkcaldy side since a 6-0 thrashing in 1983 – saw Inverness jump ahead of them on goal difference with just six games of the shortened Championship season left to play.

With just one away win in the league all season, and having suffered a run of just four wins in 16 since beating leaders Hearts, who they host on Saturday, to go top briefly in November, Athletic are suddenly embroiled in a battle to make sure of a play-off place that, for much of the season, looked assured.

They will be grateful for home comforts, having lost five on the spin on the road, against the Jambos, themselves under pressure after a Scottish Cup exit to Highland League, Brora Rangers, and a home defeat to Queen of the South.

Speaking to Press Sport after the humiliating defeat to Rovers, a hurting Crawford acknowledged that the fans will be furious with what they watched and that his team need to take criticism levelled at them.

But he has also challenged his players to come out fighting against Robbie Neilson's men this weekend and find a way to earn the points that will see them climb back into the play-off places.

When asked what he'd say to the fans, Crawford said: "It's not a nice question to be asked but it's a proper question that should be asked after that.

"I'm hurting; I said it's my lowest point since I've come into the job. I'll not hide from the responsibility – the club means too much to myself – but the supporters will be hurting and we've got to prove in the next six games that we're capable of getting in these play-offs.

"It's never nice to lose any game in that manner. I think I said after the game the other night that, to lose 5-1, and also against your rivals, it's a difficult one to take.

"But, equally, we won against them earlier in the season 4-1. We never got carried away at that point, so probably our worst and best performances have come against Raith Rovers this season.

"That's history now and we've just got make sure we pick ourselves up, dig deep and get a reaction that gives us an opportunity now playing against Hearts at the weekend, and in the last five games of the season.

"I did say, and this doesn't mean that Tuesday night's performance against Raith Rovers is acceptable by any means, but it was going to be a rollercoaster when you're working with younger players, when you're working with boys that possibly haven't got game time at this level, but that's the excitement side as well. You've got to make sure that you stay together.

"Unfortunately, we find ourselves at the moment probably at the low end of the rollercoaster ride and we've got to pick ourselves up very quickly to make sure we're winning games again."

Crawford continued: "The one thing I've said is that I've signed every player that's in that dressing room now. It's my team.

"I speak to the players regularly; I know that they're hurting but I need them to show they're hurting.

"Collectively, that wasn't good enough against Raith Rovers the other night. Dundee was a sore one because we scored two goals away from home and lost goals to set plays which we hadn't been earlier in the season, and it's just re-galvanising, soul-searching, but certainly not feeling sorry for ourselves, and taking the criticism that comes our way.

"It's not the nice side of the job but it's accepting that there's people going to be really disappointed and angry at the performance, and making that right, and showing that we're better than what we showed the other night.

"We can't just look back. We've got to look forward, make sure we're harder to beat but also having a goal threat, and that's the challenges we're going to have over the next six games."

When asked if there's a belief within the dressing room to turn their form around, he replied: "There has to be; there certainly is from myself. The early-season form, when we were getting results, was a great run and everybody was in a good place.

"If you're going to achieve something in life, not everything runs smoothly. It's being able to get over the bumps and bruises of what's thrown at you, and it's going to be a test now. I don't just mean that on the players, it's the management staff and the coaches, we're facing something that's not nice to face.

"I'm not going to hide from it – I can't hide from it. The supporters are going to be angry, I know that and I don't take that lightly, but we'll do our best to make sure we start winning games to give ourselves the best chance to finish in the play-offs now."

Crawford confirmed that, due to the loan arrangement with Hearts, Craig Wighton will miss the game with his parent club, but Vytas Gašpuitis will be back having been on international duty with Lithuania.

Steven Whittaker has been missing with an ankle problem, while Paul Watson remains a doubt after being absent at Raith.