The Tigers, without playing in the league, had a decent weekend with relegation rivals Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland all losing, while Burton Albion were held to a goalless draw at home.
It means City still sit a point above the drop zone ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Middlesbrough.
“We are back to the league now and this period coming up is huge,” said Irvine, fresh from Friday’s FA Cup exit at Chelsea that saw Dawson and Grosicki return to the squad after injury. “I said four or five weeks ago that every game was a Cup final and that still applies.
“This will be our fourth away game in a row and then we have a couple at home. Friday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday is a tough schedule but we have to adapt. We have a good squad here with depth.
“There are a couple of other boys coming back, it was good to see Kamil back on the bench along with ‘Daws’ in the team.
“We are getting stronger and stronger. Abel is training now, too, so that has to be a positive thing. Everyone is going to be needed because we are going into a vital, vital time.
“We need experience and quality, guys who have played at the top level. That is why having the guys back is so good.
“Lads like Harry Wilson and Max Clark, and myself to an extent, can only benefit from playing with those experienced players.
“These pros can lift the whole team. Just when you look around the dressing room and see the strength of the squad, it gives that little lift and belief.
“These next few weeks will define our season. We have to build on that Nottingham Forest performance.”