Sheffield United may be sitting in the bottom half of League One this morning but Jay McEveley believes the Blades have Championship pedigree.
The former Barnsley defender – who started out in the same youth team as Wayne Rooney at Everton – only joined United last month after being released by Swindon Town.
But the 29-year-old Scotland international has seen enough of the Blades’ squad to make his bold prediction.
United currently sit 16th, picking up seven points from their opening five league games, but have bounced back after losing their first two League One games to Bristol City and Coventry City.
They beat fellow promotion favourites Peterborough United away, pipped Crawley Town 1-0, before producing two back-to-back impressive displays.
First the Blades knocked out Premier League opposition in the Capital One Cup, away at West Ham United, before following that up four days later by taking a point from their trip to Preston North End.
The two-week international break came just at the wrong time for Nigel Clough’s fast-improving team, but the Blades have utilised the time on the training ground and rammed home the quality inside the camp for McEveley.
“Some of the stuff I’ve seen in training this week has been Championship standard,” said the blond-haired Scouser.
“If this team stepped up into the Championship then, being honest, I think it could handle it because the quality and the depth of squad is there.
“So, really, it’s a mental thing. If we can get our heads right and stick together as a squad then I think we’ll be okay.
“We’re nearly there as a unit.
“We conceded against Preston but they didn’t tear us apart or create tons of chances.
“At West Ham we were solid and at Peterborough we only conceded from a set-piece.
“It takes time to develop that understanding but we’re doing that. Clean sheets have got to be the base.”
McEveley has quickly settled into a defence which has struggled to cope with the loss of Harry Maguire, the Sheffield-born centre-half who moved to Hull City in the summer.
His experience can only help the impressive Harrison McGahey, the 18-year-old who has been a revelation for the Blades since arriving from Blackpool in July.
The teenager was expected to be in United’s development squad, but has forced his way in to Clough’s first XI.
McEveley, too, has made an instant impact at Bramall Lane and insists United fans have yet to see the best of him after missing pre-season training.
“It’s been brilliant,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be in the team so quickly or on the pitch.
“But that’s good because I didn’t have a pre-season and there’s no better way of getting fit than playing games.
“I was in good enough shape to get out there but there’s more to come from me.
“The last 10 minutes of games, when you get the benefits of that, I still need to catch up on.
“But the break has been good for me because I’ve been able to get my legs back.”
McEveley has been able to draw on his experience of his playing career, which started out at Blackburn Rovers before taking in Derby County – where he worked under Clough – and Swindon, as well as numerous loan spells at footballing outposts like Gillingham, Ipswich and Charlton.
It is that know-how in defence which McEveley believes has enabled him to impress in his first month at United.
“It enables you to cheat a little bit,” said McEveley.
“To put yourself in the right positions so you can cut out that pass or not get yourself one on one with their winger.
“Talking helps as well. Just opening your mouth and organising.
“I tell the younger lads that. Just open your mouth and it makes your life so much easier.
“That’s something you’ve just got to learn though because, at that age, you’re just concentrating on your own game so hard.”
Today, United welcome a Rochdale side managed by former Barnsley boss Keith Hill.
And McEveley insists United must give the Lancashire side – promoted from League Two last term – the same respect they gave Premier League West Ham if the Blades want to continue to climb the table.
“Our results reaffirm what we’re doing,” he said. “We’ve got to treat Rochdale like we’re walking out against West Ham.
“Without being disrespectful to them, they are newly-promoted and we are established in the division.
“We are one of the favourites for promotion and we are at home.
“We’ve got to treat every single game like we did the West Ham one. Every single training session too. We don’t want to come up short.”
McEveley knows Rochdale boss Hill from their Oakwell days, and expects a tough match today.
“Keith is a great manager and he’s done wonders at Rochdale,” said McEveley. “They’re a good team and they got promoted.
“They played some lovely stuff last year. We know they’ll be up for it and looking to come straight out of the blocks.”
Blades boss Clough is looking for United to come out refreshed after their two-week break, and reproduce the performances seen at West Ham and Deepdale.
“Rochdale have had a very good start to life in League One,” he said.
“We had them watched at Crawley last week and it was a very comprehensive victory.
“They will relish the prospect of playing at Bramall Lane.
“They are capable of scoring goals; usually Keith Hill’s teams if they are on song are very, very good.
“But it’s about us on Saturday; if we are as good as we have been in the last couple of games we’ll be okay.
“Three points would take us back into the top half, where we want to be.”