Nigel Adkins, the Sheffield United manager, has warned it would be a grave mistake to rule his team out of the race for a top two finish.
Adkins, whose team enter Boxing Day’s fixture against Wigan Athletic ninth in the table, made the claim after drawing parallels between their start to the campaign and Southampton’s surge up the rankings when he achieved the first of two successive promotions at St Mary’s five seasons ago.
“Come Boxing Day, we will be at the halfway mark,” Adkins said. “I always maintained that, come January, we wanted to be in the race. We are a point off the play-offs and can still get automatic. We’ve got three very important games coming up. The next game is always the most important and so all our energies must be on that.”
“We weren’t in and around the top when we went to Southampton,” he added. “You have to get the chance to turn things around and where you are at the end of the season is what matters. We’ve been here a very short period of time and, yes, there’s an expectation. But we are driving that because we want to be at the highest level.”
Southampton were 13th when Adkins, having previously led Scunthorpe into the Championship, took charge in September 2010. They climbed to 10th at Christmas before eventually securing the runners-up berth behind Brighton.
“Within a week, we’ve got three games and that can change the complexion of the league table very quickly,” Adkins said. “We know where we want to end up and where we expect to end up but there’s a hell of a long way to go. You’ve just got to get to January and be in the race. We did that at Scunthorpe and we did that at Southampton which enabled us, eventually, to get to where we wanted to be.”