Nottingham: Graham Potter admitted Chelsea's disappointing 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest underlined the lack of consistency that threatens to shatter their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
Raheem Sterling put Chelsea ahead in the first half at the City Ground on Sunday.
The Blues are seven points adrift of fourth placed Manchester United in the race to qualify for the Champions League via a top four finish.
But Ivory Coast defender Serge Aurier levelled after the break and Chelsea were fortunate to escape without an embarrassing defeat after Forest dominated for long spells in the second half.
Chelsea are languishing in eighth place after failing to win for the sixth time in their last seven league games.
"We need to be more consistent. It would help to get players back, the key ones and then you can build consistency in key places," Potter said.
"We have a long way to go so it would be a mistake to think about what could happen in five months time."
"It's always tough because you have a lot of big teams with lots of top players and coaches.
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta added to the gloom when he said: "Since the beginning of the season we have lost too many points and we are really far from where we want to be.
Just months after replacing the sacked Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea boss Potter is starting to come under fire as the early optimism after his move from Brighton begins to fade.
Chelsea's 2-0 win against Bournemouth on Boxing Day was supposed to offer hope of a brighter period in 2023.
But while it is surely too early for Potter to be worried about losing the first high-pressure job of his career, the 47-year-old needs an uptick in results in the new year to avoid putting Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly in an awkward position.
"Our performance level wasn't good enough to take the three points. We didn't move the ball fast enough," Potter said.
"Forest played a good game but we're disappointed with our performance and concerned we didn't deserve the win. It was overall below par for us."
If that was a lucky break for Chelsea, Potter's side enjoyed an even greater stroke of good fortune as they took the lead in the 16th minute.
"We need to have a very good second half of the season if we want to play in the Champions League next season."
Forest are third bottom having won just three games all season, but boss Steve Cooper will take heart from the way his team rattled Chelsea in the second half.
The only dark cloud for Forest was the alleged homophobic chanting from home supporters that earned condemnation from LGBTQ groups.
Brennan Johnson threatened an early goal for Forest when he sprinted clear of Marc Cucurella and Thiago Silva, but Kepa Arrizabalaga spared his team-mates' blushes with a good save.
Christian Pulisic's cross towards Kai Havertz was deflected by Forest defender Willy Boly's out-stretched foot, with the ball looping onto the crossbar and bouncing down perfectly for the unmarked Sterling to slam home from close-range.
It was Sterling's first league goal since August and only the sixth in all competitions for the England forward since his close-season move from Manchester City.
But Chelsea's first half superiority quickly faded after the interval.
Kepa came to Chelsea's rescue with a superb save after Johnson accelerated onto Morgan Gibbs-White's pass and unleashed a stinging shot.
Chelsea were on the ropes and Gibbs-White was inches away from an equaliser when he met Ryan Yates' pass with a sweetly-timed strike that cannoned off the bar and bounced to safety.
With Chelsea strangely subdued in the second half, Forest's pressure paid off in the 63rd minute.
Boly out-jumped Pulisic to head a corner towards Aurier, who deftly controlled on his chest before volleying through Kepa's legs from five yards.