Skipper Billy Sharp insists Sheffield United can hold their heads high despite failing to make the Championship play-offs this season.
United, who topped the table back in November after a stunning start to life in the second tier following their League One title win last season, saw their faint hopes of gatecrashing the top six finally ended by a 1-0 defeat at home to Preston on Saturday.
Chris Wilder’s men will therefore travel to Bristol City on Sunday for their final game of the campaign 11th in the Championship, and can finish only as high as eighth if they beat Lee Johnson’s men and other results go their way.
But Sharp, with 12 goals to his name, admits the season has had its positives too.
“We started the season really well, had momentum from the season before, and put ourselves in a really good position,” he said.
“But the last few weeks we have not been able to get the wins and it’s been frustrating.
“We have to hold our heads high. We have done ourselves justice, given it our best, and I think the fans have realised that.
“Deep down I didn’t think we would struggle this season, but I didn’t think we would be top of the league.
“But we did go top, and it’s just disappointing how it’s ended... It has been frustrating the last few weeks because we have wanted to do so well.”
Instead of the play-offs, thoughts have instead turned to next season and the future of manager Wilder, pictured, who has called for direction and dialogue from above as co-owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah continue their boardroom impasse.
“I have seen some quotes from people saying we are tired, but that’s not an excuse,” Sharp added.
“We should be able to run every single week.
“We have to use this experience, take it on the chin that we have not been quite good enough to get in the play-offs.
“It gives us belief for next season. It will still be as strong next year, but have had a season’s experience of being in the division.
“If we can add a little bit more quality to the squad, get stronger, we will be fine for next season.”
Meanwhile, midfielder John Fleck was named United’s official player of the season at the end-of-season dinner on Sunday evening. David Brooks is the young player of the year and Lee Evans picked up the goal of the season award for his stunning volley at home to Middlesbrough.