POPULAR right-back Matthew Lowton is convinced Sheffield United have the strength and depth required to be a genuine force in League One next season.
Manager Danny Wilson has been forced to offload Darius Henderson and Mark Yeates to reduce the size of the wage bill this summer while Welsh international Ched Evans is also likely to be sold.
But Chesterfield-born Lowton, who is expected to sign a new deal at Bramall Lane before the curtain-raiser at Oldham Athletic on August 6, is confident the Blades still have the players to be promotion contenders.
He told The Star: “With the squad we have got now we can challenge at the top. We have got depth where we need it.
“Everyone is up for the fight and behind the team so I think we have got a great chance.
“Promotion is the target and we are all looking forward to the season.
“It is going to be tough because we are the big fish and everyone will want to beat us. We are going to be their cup final. Teams will want to come and turn us over.
“We have to be patient, pass the ball and try not to get frustrated. “We have got some tough away days at little grounds so we have to be psychologically strong to deal with that.”
Lowton, who can play anywhere across the back four or in midfield, has agreed to extend his contract at United until 2014. The deal is set to be officially confirmed next week.
Leicester City and Ipswich Town were reportedly interested in capturing the 22-year-old, who became a regular in the first team at United last season.
With question marks lingering over Lowton’s future, Wilson has pulled off a major coup in persuading the academy graduate to stay.
It comes just two weeks after young striker Jordan Slew committed his future to the club despite being courted by Fulham.
Lowton, who made 32 appearances in all competitions last term, scoring four goals, said: “The gaffer said he wanted to offer me a new contract and I was elated. I read about a few clubs who were interested in me but my aim was to carry on playing for this club. I wasn’t thinking about playing for anybody else.”
The defender said positive talks have taken place with United and added: “Everything is moving in the right direction so I am very happy.”
In Wilson’s first home match in charge since succeeding Micky Adams at the helm, United slipped to a 1-0 defeat against local rivals Doncaster Rovers in midweek courtesy of a gem from Simon Gillett late on.
It ended United’s unbeaten record in pre-season but Lowton has played down the significance of the result.
“It was a good work out for us,” he said.
“But the result isn’t the key thing. It is all about improving our fitness.
“We had a good work out in Malta and against Doncaster and we have another game on Sunday so hopefully we will be flying when the Oldham match comes along.”