Sheffield Wednesday face a formidable run of Championship fixtures which is due to put their recent revival to the sternest test.
The Owls’ next five Championship games are against teams from the top eight in the division, starting with today’s visit of fourth-placed Crystal Palace.
Nottingham Forest, in eighth, are the next Hillsborough visitors before successive away trips to Watford (third) and Leicester City (fifth). It then culminates with league leaders Cardiff City visiting the Owls on March 16.
Just one defeat in 11 has seen Dave Jones’s side climb out of the relegation places, but they stand just two points off third-from-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers and will need to cause a couple of upsets to avoid dropping back into the drop zone.
Yet, in a division where results are as hard to predict as Lottery numbers, anything is possible and Owls midfielder Jeremy Helan believes the tough run of games could bring out the best in Wednesday.
The on-loan Frenchman points to recent 3-1 wins away to second-placed Hull City and Brighton (seventh) as proof that Wednesday can raise their game against the Championship’s best.
“Every time we have played the big teams we have not done too badly,” said Helan, who is in his second loan spell from Premier League champions Manchester City.
“I think sometimes when we play better-placed teams than us, we are playing better than when we play against teams like us. Against Bristol City we lost and Bristol were not very good.
“Against Birmingham (a 0-0 midweek draw), we could have got a result.
“Every time we have played against a team who are better than us, we have been more likely to get a good result. People have been surprised at what we can do.
“I think sometimes we get the motivation, playing against the bigger teams, maybe. We have good players and maybe they think this is where they should be, they want to match the challenge.
“I was looking at the league table and it’s really tight at the bottom. Every point counts. If we can stay as strong as we are now, we stand a very good chance (of staying up).”
Today 20-year-old Helan was due to face Wilfried Zaha, England and Palace’s electric-paced winger who is bound for Manchester United in the summer for £15m.
The pair could be cross-city rivals next season, but Zaha misses out today with a deadleg.
Helan said: “They have a very good team and I am not surprised at their league position. But we are hard to beat as well, right now, so it should be a good game.”
Like Palace, who have speedsters Zaha and Yannick Bolasie in their ranks, in Helan, Jermaine Johnson and Michail Antonio, the Owls have three players of their own who have natural pace.
“Michail and JJ are quick, there are a few players in our team who are quick too,” said Helan.
“You have players who can take people on. Michail on his day can do everything.”
Helan’s return to Hillsborough in the January transfer window looked to have been hijacked by Watford’s offer to buy the youngster.
But that deal collapsed, and Helan revealed his first choice was always to return to play under Jones, after impressing in his first loan spell.
“My first choice was to always come back to Hillsborough,” he stressed. “I made the decision to come back, but Watford came in with an offer and we had to talk. We talked but nothing really happened and I came back here, which is what I wanted to do.
“In the morning when I found out Watford wanted to talk to me, I was on my way to Hillsborough to sign.
“The season has gone very fast. I still remember my first game here against Leicester. Since, I have learned a lot and it’s a good place to be. In the position we are in, I think I am learning a lot because the Championship is tough.
“The position where we are you cannot afford to switch off, so it’s good for me as a young player to learn the game. Not everything’s going to be nice in your career and sometimes you have to fight. It’s been good, I like the experience I am getting here.”
City manager Roberto Mancini has had the player monitored at Hillsborough, and the Frenchman revealed while he is happy with his progress, there is more to come from him. “I was told this was a great opportunity to come and play first-team football, that’s what I needed. It’s very good experience,” he said. “I was told just to play, play, play. Keep working hard and progressing.
“As young players you have good periods, and some periods where you are a bit off, but you just try to be in good form all the time even though it’s tough.
“City have been watching me; when I went back I saw the reports that they did on me. It’s always good to see from a third eye, because I have my own opinion, Sheffield Wednesday’s opinion, but you need another opinion which is always good to know.
“What Wednesday are expecting from me, it’s maybe not what City are expecting, so it’s good to get different opinions. The reports were good. Some work still to be done, I am not going to lie, but we are the on the way, it’s okay.”
Helan is due to stay at Hillsborough until the end of the season, but after that his future is unclear.
“I wouldn’t like to talk about what I am going to do in six months because we don’t really know what’s going to happen,” he said. “But while I am here what I will do is give the best that I can for this club.
“I can’t really put myself in the future as we don’t really know what will happen. Anything could happen, but obviously I like it here. What happens now is most important to me.
“This is such a big club, the stadium, and I cannot see the club going down to League One. We have to fight, obviously, but there is something at this club, I really believe that and we can achieve something with this club.”
Centre-half Martin Taylor could start today, after replacing the injured Anthony Gardner in the midweek draw at Birmingham.
He believes the Owls have managed to drag several teams into the relegation fight.
“We are playing with confidence and belief right now, which should give us an advantage over the teams that are struggling for form and points,” he said.
“There have been a lot of unexpected results recently and it just goes to show that you can never take your foot off the gas, you have to stay focused and give nothing less than 100 per cent all the time.”