Sheffield Wednesday embark on the first part of a Hillsborough double-header on Saturday that will go a long way to shaping their season.
The Owls – and under-pressure head coach Carlos Carvalhal – host South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley in a lunchtime kick-off, before the visit of Millwall on Tuesday night.
After picking up a meagre four points from their last six games, leaving them languishing in 16th place, the pressure is on to halt the slide.
Owls owner Dejphon Chansiri this week pledged his “100 per cent” support for Carvalhal.
But promotion to the Premier League this season is Chansiri’s target, and with a 13-point gap to the top-two – after just 13 games – the Owls can ill afford to lose further ground.
The size of the challenge facing Wednesday over the next four days has not been lost on the players.
Of course, when you win, confidence is higher. But it is not only about winning. It is still about the performances and the performances need to be better and then the wins will come for sure.Joost van Aken
“Of course, we need to win those games,” said Owls defender Joost van Aken. “There’s no doubt about that.
“We are not happy with the position we are in now at the moment. We need a lot of wins, more points and a better way of playing and then the points will come for sure.
“We need to win the games and the pressure is on the players.
“We need to show the fans and everybody in the club a good performance.”
That extends to head coach Carvalhal, who needs results quickly to stem a growing feeling of unrest amongst the Hillsborough support.
“The players are right behind him and we are very confident in our coach,” said van Aken. “He has confidence in his players. The confidence from both sides is very high.
“Of course, when you win, confidence is higher. But it is not only about winning.
“It is still about the performances and the performances need to be better and then the wins will come for sure.
“That’s what I expect.”
Between them, Barnsley and Millwall have won just once on their travels in the Championship this season.
But since beating fourth-placed Leeds United on their last Hillsborough outing, Wednesday slumped to defeat at bottom-of-the-table Bolton Wanderers to show the unpredictability of the Championship.
Dutchman Van Aken – set to replace the suspended Glenn Loovens at the heart of Wednesday’s defence today – has witnessed that in his short time in English football.
Seven weeks since making his Owls debut, Wednesday have won three, drawn once, and lost three.
He said: “We hoped we could continue that way of playing after the Leeds game.
“But we didn’t do a good job the game after against Bolton.
“I don’t know why we are inconsistent. If we knew directly, we would change it.
“Maybe it is in our heads. I don’t know. Everybody can beat each other in this league.
“But the performance we did on the pitch was not good enough.
“It is not easy to win every game but if the performances are good you can be a little bit satisfied.
“We need to put in better performances.
“It’s a hard competition. It’s a hard league. All the teams are at a very good level.
“Every game is difficult. But for me, after six to seven weeks of being here, it is the best decision I could make.
“It’s not easy. It’s a better level than I was used to but not tricky.
“Of course, I have to improve my way of playing.
“For me, it is a very good competition to play in and I like to be in it.”
Van Aken has been plunged straight into the Championship, after arriving in a £4m deal from Dutch side Heerenveen.
Like the team, the 23-year-old left-footer has failed to find a consistency in performance, but has confidence in his ability.
“I think I have shown good performances and performances that were not good enough,” said van Aken.
“I have shown both sides. Just the like the team, I need to be more consistent. If I am in the squad, I need to show my best performance every game. I need to put in solid performances.
“I need to be more consistent. There have been some moments in games where I have been good and then other moments in games where I have not been good enough.
“I believe and have confidence in myself that I can do it. I need to show it in the game.”
Van Aken was dropped for last week’s 2-0 loss at Derby County, when Loovens was sent off after just four minutes.
But the performance by 10-man Wednesday at Pride Park was full of passion and hard graft, and Carvalhal wants a repeat display today against Paul Heckingbottom’s youthful Barnsley.
“We are looking forward to playing at Hillsborough in front of our fans,” said Carvalhal.
“The last time we played there we did very well, a fantastic game in the derby against Leeds. It’s good to be back home again.
“What we must do on Saturday is try to continue what we did in the last game, try to play with 10 (outfield) players, with the same attitude and heart.
“It will not be an easy game, it’s a derby. Barnsley don’t play typical English football, they try to play, so it will be an interesting game.
“They have a young team, organised, fight and run a lot. They change a lot, one year to the next, but still are competitive. We expect a difficult game.
“We are 16th position at this moment, that’s a reality, and we want to change position as soon as possible.
“In the last game we had a big determination to win the game. The circumstances of the game meant we had to play with 10 men.
“But with 10, my players were brave, gladiators, organised and closed down spaces.
“We created chances to score, and the players gave good signs, in my opinion.
“I hope we can continue to do what we did against Leeds, and Derby, because I feel the profile of the game, attitude and quality, was similar.”