John Ward says he was left to feel "embarrassed" after his Bristol Rovers side served up the worst performance of his tenure at Hartlepool.
Veteran marksman Marlon Harewood offered Colin Cooper's play-off chasers the perfect start at Victoria Park by opening the scoring in the first minute before midfielder Bradley Walker doubled the advantage from distance.
Simon Walton added a third goal by stroking home from the penalty spot in the 56th minute and Rovers' heaviest defeat of the season was confirmed in the 89th minute as Jonathan Franks scored from close-in after Luke James had robbed the ball from Tom Parkes.
"I'm quite embarrassed by the performance," Ward said afterwards. "That is the first time I have felt like that since I came here last season. We went under a little bit too tamely and that is something we have never done before.
"We have always fought it out and been hard to beat. We have missed an opportunity to give ourselves a bit of credibility and that is what annoys me and hurts me the most.
"Conceding a goal in the first minute is always going to scupper your plans, but, when that happens, you have to roll your sleeves up and come back.
"The second goal was a superb strike, but we have made quite catastrophic errors to assist them with their third and their fourth goal.
"We are all somewhat embarrassed by that because it was quite poor and none of us can hide from that fact. I feel most for our supporters because getting to Hartlepool is a massive journey.
"They were still singing when we were 4-0 down and I don't think we deserved that sort of support from them after our performance."
Ward, meanwhile, remained inside the changing room with his players for 20 minutes after the final whistle before emerging to complete his press requirements.
"I've spoken to the boys openly and honestly," Ward said. "I have told them that I can't come out and defend them after that because that was probably the poorest performance we have given since I have been at the football club.
"There were no fingers pointed in the changing room afterwards or anything like that, but I reminded them that if anybody thought everything is hunky-dory, then this performance suggest that we are not at the moment."
Rovers ended the game four points clear of the drop zone, and Ward said: "There are ten matches left and we have to work as hard as we can."