LEE EVANS believes Sheffield United’s players have proved they are genuine promotion contenders.
After the Blades slipped up, losing 1-0 to strugglers Hull City last month, many pundits believed United’s play-off bubble had burst.
Even Blades manger Chris Wilder was left frustrated and questioning their top-six ambitions.
But United’s players have done their talking on the pitch and a win today – against Nottingham Forest at Bramall Lane – would mean a seven-point haul in eight days.
More importantly, it would put pressure on the sides above them, bringing the Blades level on points with fifth-placed Derby County, who play second-placed Cardiff City tomorrow.
“We got written off by a lot of people for the way we played, and rightly so,” said Evans, recalling their defeat at Hull.
“We were terrible that night. It was an off-night, and we knew we had to respond in the games coming up after.
“That’s the team spirit here. Last season, the boys were used to winning, winning, winning.
“So, this season, when results don’t go our way, it’s like ‘this shouldn’t be happening, we are used to wining games of football’.
“It’s how you react to defeats and draws that counts, and I think we have done that really well this season.
We haven’t got the massive names in the Championship, like Aston Villa and Wolves. But we know on our day we can beat anybody in this league.Sheffield United’s Lee Evans
“We look at games in patches, this time it is Ipswich, Burton and Forest. If we get three points on Saturday, that’s seven points in just over a week and that would be massive going into the international break.
“There’s a lot of teams going for fifth and sixth – places which I think are open at the moment.
“There’s probably five teams, maybe even more, who think they can still get in the play-offs,” he said. “We just need to get on a little run, stay in the hunt after the international break, then you never know.
“We have five home games and, if we can most of them, we will be there or thereabouts,” added Evans.
Looking at teams in the top six, there’s a ‘who’s who?’ of financial heavyweights in Wolverhampton, Aston Villa, Cardiff City, Fulham, Derby County and Middlesbrough.
Wilder’s United are the poor relations in comparison but they continue to punch above their weight.
“A team is more important than individual players,” said Evans, 23. “As an XI, we have to work together.
“We haven’t got the massive names in the Championship, like Aston Villa and Wolves. But we know on our day we can beat anybody in this league.
“It’s just about 11 players turning up and doing the best we can.
“This season, there are some massive names in the Championship, players brought in for millions and millions of pounds.
“A couple of years ago, you wouldn’t have heard of that in the Championship. The league is getting stronger, but there is no substitute for hard work. A hard-working XI will always do well.”
Former Wolves midfielder Evans – who arrived at United in the January transfer window after a loan spell at Wigan – could be in line for an unusual hat-trick of promotions.
Wolves are favourites to win the Championship title, Wigan are in the League One automatic promotion places, while the Blades are also chasing a place in the top flight.
After a 0-0 draw at Ipswich Town, United returned to winning ways with a gritty 2-0 win over Burton Albion on Tuesday night.
“Grinding out a victory is the right term, we weren’t at our best,” admitted Evans.
“But at this stage of the season it’s results which matter, performances come second.
“It was a good three points.
“Especially after the Ipswich game, we needed the three points on Tuesday night to keep us in the hunt.
“I am enjoying just playing games. There’s a lot of competition for places, and I know I need to play well when I get the opportunity, to keep my place in the side,” added Evans, whose performances have earned him a call-up by Wales for two friendlies, against China and Mexico, this month.
If the Blades are to reach the play-offs, their home form will be key.
United have five of their remaining nine games at Bramall Lane. After Forest today, fellow promotion contenders Cardiff City, Middlesbrough and Preston, along with Millwall, who are on an 11-game unbeaten league run, all must come to Sheffield.
Away games see the Blades travel to Brentford, Barnsley, Birmingham City and Bristol City.
Evans said: “Anyone’s home form is massive in this league.
“Five home games, out of nine, leaves us in great shape.
“The mood is really positive. We all know what happened at Hull, we all got told what people thought, but I think since then we have done really well. It’s all to play for.
“With nine games to go, we couldn’t have asked for much more. If we can get three points on Saturday, it would take us into the international break in great shape. Reaching the play-offs would be massive.”
Evans continued: “With the club coming up last year, champions of League One, I don’t think many would have anticipated us being in this place. We are just enjoying it.”