Midfielder Charlie Adam accepts Stoke now face a relegation battle and a test of character they can only pass with hard work.
The Potters' slide towards Barclays Premier League danger continued as they were beaten 3-1 by lowly Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium yesterday.
An 80th-minute equaliser from Michael Kightly might have salvaged a barely-deserved point for Tony Pulis' men but a stunning Matt Lowton strike restored Villa's superiority.
Christian Benteke then wrapped up victory in injury time and condemned Stoke to a fifth defeat in six games.
Stoke may have begun the game in 13th place but the loss saw Villa, who had been in the bottom three, climb to within a point of them.
With just one win in 13 games, alarm bells are ringing and Adam knows the team must respond urgently.
Adam, who was involved in battle at the bottom with Blackpool two years ago, said: "Yes we are in the relegation fight and now it is about character.
"We will see how good the character in the group is. It has got to be in question now and we have got to step up to the mark.
"We need hard work. If you don't work hard you are going to be sucked into it. We are in it.
"It is a relegation fight and we need to pick ourselves up for next week."
Stoke's next fixture could hardly be more daunting with leaders Manchester United visiting the Britannia next Sunday hoping to take a step nearer to winning the title.
Adam said: "The intensity Villa showed was not suiting us.
"They had a few chances and it is hard to take.
"But there are no easy games in this league and there are none bigger than Manchester United next Sunday.
"We are at home and if we could gradually get confidence going into the game, then fine, but it is going to be a tough match for us."
Stoke actually started well and had an early penalty appeal for handball turned down and a Kenwyne Jones chance before Gabriel Agbonlahor gave Villa a ninth-minute lead.
After that it became a story of Villa dominance and several times went close to adding to their advantage, including hitting the post through Andreas Weimann.
The visitors looked like paying for their failure to make that superiority count when Adam teed up fellow substitute Kightly to tuck home a leveller late on.
But little could be done to keep out Lowton's long-range volley and there were no complaints about the final result.
Adam, 27, who joined Stoke from Liverpool last August, said: "We shot ourselves in the foot again.
"We got back to 1-1 and tried to go for the game. The way we played a point probably would have been a good result but we have conceded three and it is difficult to take.
"Fair play to Aston Villa. Both teams are under a bit of pressure but the way they played was magnificent.
"I think the goal the lad (Lowton) scored was an incredible strike, you can't take that away from him."