MK Dons cannot afford to let League 1's leading teams get a head-start if they are to beat the drop this season, said Peter Pawlett.
Pawlett scored in the 2-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers on Monday as Tony Mowbray's side took over at the top of the table, while Dons slipped back into the bottom four.
Adam Armstrong scored both Rovers' goals in the first half as Dan Micciche admitted he got it tactically wrong at Stadium MK, but Dons had a new lease of life in the second half as they sought a way back into the game.
With Dons travelling to title-chasing Wigan Athletic next Saturday, Pawlett said Dons cannot afford to let Wigan get the upper hand in the early stages like Blackburn did.
"Especially at home, we need to be braver," said Pawlett. "Wigan will have more of the ball, but performances like this give everyone confidence. We're a good side and we need to go toe-to-toe with them.
"In the first half (against Blackburn), we showed them too much respect but we gathered at half time we were much better in the second half. We put them under pressure, created chances and they struggled to get out their half. We have to take confidence from this, even though it's disappointing we got beaten.
"We stood off them a bit too much. We needed to get in their faces, which we did in the second half. We deserved something from the game.
"We have taken a team which are probably going to win the league right to the final whistle. If we can carry that belief to Wigan, we can get something."
Pawlett headed home his fourth goal of the season with 18 minutes to go, giving Dons a lifeline back in the game. And he could have equalised as the clock ticked over to 90 but fired straight at Rovers keeper David Raya.
He said: "It'll haunt me tonight. I should have gone higher, the keeper had a good day, but it's disappointing."
The defeat to Blackburn meant Dons dropped back into the relegation zone, albeit on goal-difference. Pawlett admitted he, like everyone, keeps an eye on the league table, but said Dons will only concentrate on themselves until fate is out of their hands.
He added: "I'll go home and I'll check everything, and see where we are - it's natural, we all do it. But we have to focus on ourselves. We have a points target to go for, and hopefully we can stay up there."