Jay McEveley believes Sheffield United can still gatecrash the end-of-season play-offs.
It is a bold claim from the Blades’ captain after seeing his side pick up just two wins out of nine and being yet to triumph at Bramall Lane in 2016.
But the 31-year-old Liverpudlian knows first-hand how fortunes can change quickly in football.
In January, 2007 he swapped Premier League football with Blackburn Rovers to join Championship pace-setters Derby County, a side who looked nailed-on for automatic promotion to the top flight.
Yet a run of just six wins from their last 16 games saw them consigned to the play-offs.
The Rams rallied together, put aside their disappointment and beat Southampton in the semi-finals, before Stephen Pearson’s strike beat West Brom in the Wembley final.
McEveley believes United, who trail sixth-placed Millwall by five points, can achieve similar success in the face of adversity, starting today with the visit of Port Vale.
“When I first went to Derby, we were second I think and a few points off the top,” said the left-back.
“The rest of the season didn’t go as we would have wanted and, with a few games to go, we realised we couldn’t make the top two.
“We ended up in the play-offs and there was a lot of disappointment. We all got together and realised we were good players and had to push on.
“We got promoted through the play-offs. We’ve got to look at it like that now. We all got together back then, fans included, staff and everybody else and got through it.
“There was light at the end of the tunnel when it all seemed like gloom and doom. We’ve got to say, ‘we can do this’., believe we can do it and then hope the people who come to see us cheer us on.”
Disgruntled Blades fans saw their side lose to Bury in midweek and McEveley admits he and his team-mates have to accept the criticism coming their way.
“Supporters are entitled to their opinion,” he said.
“They pay to watch games and at certain times they’ve not been happy with them. We accept that and we take it on our shoulders.
“There’s personal pride, too. When you are playing for a club of this size, you don’t want to let all those people down. Teams step up to the plate when they come here and we’ve got to deal with that. I’ve seen teams come here, been very good, then seen them the next week and thought ‘where’s that team gone we played?’
“That’s what happens, that’s the expectation at a club of this size and we have to deal with it.”
Ultimately, though, McEveley accepts United have to perform and get results to placate unhappy supporters.
He said: “We can do all the talking we want in press conferences or in the dressing room. But it’s when we step over that white line, that’s when we’re judged.
“Yes, I think it’s a mental thing a lot of the time. It does play on your mind when things aren’t going well. It does affect you, but we’re professionals and we have to get over that.
“Us older lads, we have to help the ones at the start or in the middle of their careers.
“Consistency levels have not been good this season. There’s no hiding from that. We’ve got to really push together, for the last 15 games, and get to where we want to be. It could all be laughs and smiles at the end of the season.
“You can improve consistency by working on the training ground, looking at video analysis of not so good performances and goals conceded. Just get to know what’s going to happen in certain situations and work on how we want to get at opposition teams. Just keep working.”
Blades manager Nigel Adkins is demanding a response from his players after their loss at Gigg Lane on Tuesday evening.
United have not won in three games at Bramall Lane in 2016, defeats to Peterborough and Wigan, plus a 1-1 draw with Swindon.
“I am looking for a response at the weekend from the players, everybody,” said Adkins.
“We have a common cause, we can break it all down, and that’s win the next game.
“Tuesday night was our first defeat away in the league since October, that’s not too bad. But we have had too many draws, I’m not hiding away from that.
“We have got to keep working hard, short-term and long-term, to get it right.
“There’s a big desire from upstairs, the owners, to get it right, and certainly from myself. The players are aware of it, they know they have to go and perform.”