Richard Stearman is convinced Sheffield United will be a force to be reckoned with again next season if, as expected, they fail to reach the Championship play-offs.
Despite admitting that top-six qualification is now a “big ask” ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Preston North End, the centre-half rubbished suggestions that Chris Wilder’s side owe their position in the table to momentum following last term’s League One title triumph.
“I think we can be a force again, certainly,” Stearman said. “With the quality of the lads already here, with the experience we’ve gained and the likelihood of a few more coming in, I think we’ll only get better.
“Obviously there will be a massive disappointment if we don’t get in and, admittedly, that’s going to be a big ask. We need to pick up wins and then hope for a little bit of magic elsewhere. But we’ve got to keep on fighting because you never know what might happen.”
United enter the game against Preston - their final home match of the present campaign - in 11th position; five points behind sixth-placed Derby County but above big-spending teams like Leeds, Norwich City and neighbours Sheffield Wednesday.
Stearman, signed from Wolverhampton Wanderers during the close season, said: “Personally, I think we should be comfortably in there. Maybe the games have taken their toll. Maybe we were a little bit light over Christmas but the gaffer rectified that.
“With an extra year’s worth of Championship experience, if it doesn’t happen for us this time around, we’ll be all the better for it when we get ready to go again.”
Wilder, who yesterday confirmed the likes of Kieron Freeman, Ricky Holmes and Ryan Leonard are all pushing for recalls, is expected to select his leading goalscorer Leon Clarke after the striker recovered from injury.
“I want to go out (at home) in a fashion,” he said, “A fashion that represents our season and how we have played all the way through.”