Three games to go and Sheffield United have a chance of the play-offs even now.
Winning the first two and taking it to the last game would be a huge achievement in itself.
But that will require blotting out that feeling of what might have been; the natural human reaction to so many recent results, the latest being the “what if?” of the draw with Millwall that could and should have been a win.
Here’s the rub, and it comes in two apparently contradictory statements. United have:
• Over-achieved on what they have spent.
• Under-achieved on how they have played.
And in both the above cases by a considerable margin. It’s the paradox of the season. Resolving that riddle holds the key to mounting or sustaining a full-on run to the line.
Because if United can maintain the performance level and match it with results then making the play-offs is still more than possible. But it’ll need three wins; you doubt anything less will do. Away to Birmingham, home to Preston, away to Bristol City.
You’d have to say that, in isolation, Chris Wilder’s side is capable of winning all three. To do it as a sequence is the challenge.Birmingham still need points to beat the drop and are vulnerable but determined.
Preston, above the Blades on goal difference, look like having to come to Bramall Lane on a win-or-bust mission. Bristol City, a point behind, could yet be similarly placed in the shake-up.
With teams in or around it having to play each other, sixth place is well up for grabs by any of seven clubs – from Middlesbrough and Millwall to Brentford and Bristol City. There are just four points between that little lot.
What United have to try forgetting is where they should be. Every manager will always refer to those victories that slipped away.
In United’s case that truly applies to three of the last four home games, not to mention many others.
Sorry for the reminder, but that’s six points dropped from that spell alone. “We should be higher,” Wilder admits, more in condemnation than any hard luck story.
He doesn’t buy into the latter. There’ll be no self-sorrow and a line has to be drawn under regrets if United are to keep the story going. And, as with all the best ones, there’s usually a twist right at the end.