MICHAEL Doyle did not expect to find himself still embroiled in a relegation battle with only nine matches of the season remaining.
The Sheffield United midfielder was under no illusions about the size of the task his new club were facing when, two months ago, he swapped the relative calm of Coventry City for the brutality of life at Bramall Lane.
But, Doyle thought at the time, the squad he had joined possessed enough quality and potential to quickly drag itself clear of the Championship drop zone.
How wrong he was.
Doyle enters Saturday’s derby with Leeds (kick-off 1pm), where he played over 50 games on loan last term, knowing that anything other than a win could deal United an almost fatal blow in the battle for survival. Still, despite their chaotic defeat at Watford last weekend, he remains convinced that Micky Adams’ side can stay up.
“I admit that I thought we’d be higher up now than we are,” said Doyle. “I’m surprised we are where we are now, but that’s the situation we’re in and we’ve got to deal with it.
“Looking at the players that we’ve got here then we really shouldn’t be in this position. We’ve got a good squad and a very good manager.
“But we’ve made too many individual mistakes and obviously that’s something we’ve got to stop. That’s always going to be costly, but this is still a massive club.”
United’s latest opponents, however, can testify that a big reputation is no guarantee of success, having spent three seasons in League One before finally extricating themselves in May.
That momentum has catapulted the visitors from West Yorkshire to within three places of the automatic promotion positions.
With Luciano Becchio, Max Gradel and David Somma in sparkling form, the protection Doyle affords United’s back four could prove crucial in deciding the final outcome.
Collectively, the three Leeds forwards have scored more than double the number of goals Adams’ players have mustered at home this term.
“In these positions you’ve just got to focus on what you do and nobody else,” Doyle said. “That’s collectively and individually too so we’ve got to make sure we do our own jobs and get the better of our opposite numbers.”