Carlos Carvalhal believes his Sheffield Wednesday underdogs have earned the right to challenge for a Premier League spot.
The Owls will clinch a Championship play-off spot today if they avoid defeat against seventh-placed Cardiff City at Hillsborough.
Some pundits tipped Wednesday as relegation candidates at the start of the season, but Portuguese head coach Carvalhal has orchestrated their highest finish since dropping out of the Premier League 16 years ago.
A point today would secure sixth spot with a game to spare, and Carvalhal believes his team started out as “outsiders” in the race for promotion and will relish today’s match in front of an expected 32,000-plus Hillsborough crowd.
“Since the beginning we have been outsiders in the competition to finish in the top six,” said Carvalhal.
“We are in football to live for these moments (like today).
“We created this moment, nobody has given nothing to us, to our players.
“That’s why this is our opportunity, because we created it.
“We are having our best season in the last 16 years, but the quality of football is good and the fans are enjoying it.
“Fans of all ages, from 18 to 85, come up to me in the streets and the supermarket to tell me this is some of the best football they have seen in their lives.
“Whatever happens on Saturday we will still be in sixth position. That’s something which is a good fact.”
Even defeat for Wednesday today would leave them a point better off than Cardiff, meaning the play-off race would go the final game.
The Owls have to travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Cardiff are at home to Birmingham City.
Despite a play-off place being the prize today, Carvalhal insists his players are not feeling any pressure despite a four-match winless run.
Three of those have ended in draws, and Carvalhal has been happy with the performances, if not the results.
“We don’t want change anything for this game, from what we have been doing during the season,” he added. “We have no reason to.
“We will play our football, we don’t feel any kind of pressure. We are not under pressure.
“We respect Cardiff, they are a good team, and it will be a tough game for us, but it will be a tough game for Cardiff too because our team is very dangerous.
“For what we have done this season we deserve the respect of all our opponents. We will fight and run for three points, because that’s what we have been doing all season.
“At the end of the season, let’s see what we can achieve.
“We are in a good position because we are acting like a team. That’s been crucial this season.
“The players are focussed on the game, it’s an opportunity – not stress – but an opportunity to do something, a challenge.
“We like a challenge. What is the alternative? No challenge or opportunity, playing in the middle of the table or stress as we fight relegation.”
Wednesday have a good record at Hillsborough, losing just twice, and defied the odds to get the better of Arsenal 3-0 in the League Cup back in October.
Carvalhal does not expect any jitters today, with the home sections of Hillsborough virtually sold out for today’s game.
Asked if he feared any nerves from Wednesday’s players today, Carvalhal replied: “Which game have you seen our team nervous, let me know?
“With Arsenal? No. Against Charlton, with a 29,000 crowd?
“It’s another game, and we understand people (fans) may be nervous, but to us it’s another Championship game.
“And we understand we have another game, after Cardiff, so we do not finish the season on Saturday. It’s not a problem.”
Wednesday are boosted today by the return of former Chelsea midfielder Sam Hutchinson after a bout of glandular fever.
The 26-year-old has not played for six weeks, but has been back in training for three weeks and will be in the match-day 18 today.
“Sam is available and training very well,” said Carvalhal. “He will be involved with the 18; let’s see if we put him to play or not.
“He has been training three weeks, and day by day he is getting better. He is ready to play now.
“We feel strong, concentrated, and focused, with a full squad.”