Charlie Adam has labelled Stoke's clash with QPR next weekend a must-win game as they attempt to halt the slide that has made relegation a real possibility.
When the Potters went on a 10-game unbeaten run in November and December they appeared to have few worries about securing a sixth consecutive Premier League season but their form since has been dreadful.
Stoke have picked up only five points in 2013 and just one in their last seven games, with their latest setback coming in Sunday's 2-0 defeat by Manchester United. And Midfielder Adam said: "It's hard to take but the season starts now."
Tony Pulis' side made a poor start by conceding a goal in the fourth minute, Michael Carrick prodding in after the hosts had failed to clear a corner, and Robin van Persie made sure of the points with a 66th-minute penalty.
It has now become imperative they take something from Saturday's trip to Loftus Road, with matches against fellow strugglers Norwich and Sunderland following straight after.
Adam added: "When you lose a goal after three minutes against the champions elect, it's going to be difficult. It's going to be a difficult game as it is but to lose a goal so early was a blow.
"We huffed and puffed to try to get back into the game but we never really created much. They've got top players and that's what I was trying to say during the game. I think we rushed the game a little bit too much.
"With the wind behind us in the second half we had a couple of chances but probably not enough to warrant getting anything out of the game. That's the way it goes.
"It's a sore one to take but there's five games to go and we need a couple of victories. We need to go to QPR next week and win.
"They're in a bad position so it's probably going to be an edgy match but they're at home and if we can stop them in the first 15 or 20 minutes getting the crowd up then we can go there and get a victory."