Goal hero Frank Lampard admits Chelsea can only blame themselves for slipping out of the English Premier League title race after claiming they have "dropped their standards" in recent weeks.
The veteran midfielder also warned it is vital the Blues retain the team spirit built during a decade of success if they are to stay a major force and challenge again for honours. Lampard arrested a slump which saw Chelsea take just three points in four games in December when netting last night's last gasp winner at Wolves - his ninth goal of the campaign. It moved Chelsea back into the top four after Arsenal's shock defeat against Fulham.
Lampard said: "If you don't play well enough then you don't get results. It's difficult now. You saw Blackburn against [Manchester] United, Sunderland against [Manchester] City. Teams aren't mugs. They're all set up very well and, if you're not at your very best, you won't win games.
"The brutal fact is that we haven't been at our best since the renaissance of beating Valencia, in the Champions League, and Manchester City - good performances against top teams," he went on. "But we dropped our standards again."
When asked for the reasons behind the slump, Lampard said: "It's a mixture of things. Once you lose little bits, and get a couple of bad results, trying to turn that corner becomes even harder. Sometimes it takes a result like this against Wolves, but we must carry on from here and keep that winning mentality, that fight and that desire. You saw that when the tackles were flying in during the first half. We stayed with it and we got what we deserved."
There has been speculation suggesting Chelsea's players have been questioning Andre Villas-Boas management style. But Lampard said: "The team spirit's okay, I just think that when you're losing games it's the first thing people look at. That takes the big players in the dressing room and everyone collectively to stand up and make a difference which I think we did against Wolves.
"That has to be there," Lampard added. "It's something we've prided ourselves on at Chelsea for many years. It won us titles and won us a lot of things. It's something we can't lose. If you do lose that, then you can't be at the top. People have envied what we have got and, when you have that, you have a chance of winning things."
Lampard has struggled to hold down a regular spot this season but believes he will be at his best when playing week in and week out. "It was very important for me to get 90 minutes in. I'm at my best when I play regularly," he said. "I've been fortunate to do that for a long time here. When I am playing 90 minutes, I feel I am getting my levels up to where I want to be.
"That's when you can make your runs into the box late in the game and get a winning goal," Lampard said. "I hope now to keep contributing to the group and move us up the table. After a very bad day at the office two days ago [against Aston Villa], it was great to get an opportunity to play again and put it right."
Lampard is adamant his relationship with the Chelsea fans remains as strong as ever after more than a decade at Stamford Bridge. He said: "These fans have been amazing for me for the last 11 years, from the moment I joined the club. They're part of my life now. You have certain tough times in your career. This isn't the first - and it might not be the last - but they're always there.
"The ovation they gave us at the end was reciprocated by me. They know how much they mean to me and it's the same both ways."
Lampard told the London Evening Standard that it would be a big mistake if too many of the senior players left Chelsea. He told the newspaper: "We need our big players with John Terry, who was magnificent [against Wolves] at the back. The spine of the team is what has made us what we are in the last seven years. I think it's important.
"There are changes to the team and of course we all understand that things change with time, but what we are about is that spine to an extent," he added. "It's nice to see big players who have been here a long time producing the goods."