There is a growing sense among the Sheffield Wednesday faithful that if only the season was starting now.
A well-documented injury crisis that has plagued the club all season is finally abating and has given way to three successive wins which has helped lift the gloom that has shrouded S6 for much of the year.
With players like Fernando Forestieri back in the fold and Atdhe Nuhiu elevating his performance to hitherto unprecedented levels, Wednesday are beginning to show flashes of the side that reached the play-offs in back-to-back campaigns.
But amid the green shoots of recovery comes a cautionary note from one of Wednesday’s most reliable campaigners in the previous two seasons, and most notable absentees this term.
Tom Lees, as plain-speaking as it gets in a multi-cultural Owls dressing room, acknowledges that while encouragement can be taken from recent form there remains a long way to go before Wednesday can become a Championship force again.
“It’s always difficult when a team loses that momentum and that feelgood factor; it can be quite difficult to turn around,” said the 27-year-old central defender.
“But if you look at what we did after we lost the play-off final, that wasn’t an easy thing to do but we came back the next season and got ourselves back into the play-offs and then had the disappointment again.
“This season we haven’t coped as well, so it will be interesting to see how we respond next season.
“We have got a way to go in terms of improving, that’s clear, the stats and the figures don’t lie, we need to be better because everybody will improve again and the teams coming down will make the league stronger.
“So we need to be honest and realise we do have a way to go and not shy away from that.
“We’ve had a tough year, so I’m sure everyone will be wanting to end it well and end it on a positive note and do what they can so that the people who have the decisions to make at the end of the season go away knowing which players deserve to be here next time.”
What will hearten Wednesday fans is how personal Lees appears to have taken Wednesday’s sudden fall from grace.
Such a positive influence on the pitch and in the dressing room during their two seasons at the sharp end of the promotion race, he has cut a frustrated figure sitting in the stands nursing a groin injury back to full health.
Now he is back in the first team – and in the goals after his strike at Sunderland on Easter Monday – he is keen to make up for lost time.
I’ve been really hurt by what’s happened this season, and that’s been made even harder by the fact that I’ve been injured.Sheffield Wednesday’s Tom Lees
“I’ve been really hurt by what’s happened this season, and that’s been made even harder by the fact that I’ve been injured,” said the former Leeds United defender.
“I hate going to watch games on a Saturday when I’m injured, it makes it worse, it reminds you of what you’re not doing.
“It’s difficult to watch especially when things are going wrong in terms of performances and results.
“I want to help the club improve and I want us to play at that top level and do everything I can to make that happen.
“Now I’m back in the team I’m doing everything I can to try to pull us out of this situation we’re in. I don’t really want the season to end. I think that’s the case for a lot of players who are just coming back, they’re out on the training pitch enjoying it and they just want to get back out there and put what has gone wrong, right.
“Unfortunately, the season will come to a close pretty soon and we’ll all have to wait a good few months now until the start of next season.
“I think a lot of us are hurting. Now we’re getting back fit we want to do something about it.”
Bottling that pent-up frustration over the coming months is the big challenge for the summer.
Change will inevitably happen, with Lees himself likely to be a target for rivals clubs given his pedigree, but it is clear he is already turning his thoughts to remedying a few ills in the 2018-19 campaign.
“We can’t dwell on this season. We can’t ignore it, we can’t shy away from it, but in football you’re always moving forward and always trying to improve,” he said.
“We’ve got one chance to get it right for next season and there’s plenty to improve upon over the summer ahead of what is a big year for us.”
The opposition the Owls face today will offer a good barometer.
Fulham were beaten play-off semi-finalists along with Wednesday 11 months ago, and started just as slowly as the South Yorkshire club this term.
But how quickly they have turned things around since Christmas – the loan signing of Aleksandar Mitrovic being key – offers Lees a ray of hope.
“It takes a strong team to come back from disappointment and this year they’ve come back from starting the season off poorly on top of last year’s failure,” said Lees.
“They play nice football, it’s the style of football everyone at this football club would like to play, so it’s a good model. It’s an inspiration to us that if you do fail in the play-offs or have a rough patch then it’s not the be all and end all.
“If you stick to your beliefs and a way of playing and create that competition for places that quality will shine through.
“And that’s what we’ve got to do now, try to carry on this momentum and finish off the season well. Against Fulham we get a chance to see where we’re at against a top team. If we’re miles away then we know, but if we’re on the right track then we know we’re doing something right.”