They remain, Nigel Clough admits, far from the finished article, writes James Shield.
But his Sheffield United team, the former England international insisted last night, is demonstrating the strength of character required to mount a serious challenge for promotion next season.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s League One fixture at Port Vale, which could see the visitors draw level on points with seventh placed Swindon Town, the United manager said: “There’s an attitude among the lads at the moment that, come what may, they are going to make sure they’re hard to beat. And that’s a mindset that you need if you are going to stand a chance of achieving anything.
“We saw that at Tranmere (Rovers, on Easter Monday) when players were flinging themselves in front of the ball to block shots or get a tackle in. They were tired but dug deep and that was good to see.
“This is a tough competition and it’s a long grind at times. It’s impossible to be at your best all the way through but, if you’ve got that determination, then you should be able to pick up results even when you’re not.”
United’s hopes of qualifying for the play-offs evaporated following that goalless draw at Prenton Park. But, as Clough acknowledged, the fact they had even given themselves a chance was “something else” given their slow start to the campaign.
United were 20th when, under the stewardship of caretaker manager Chris Morgan, they beat 13th placed Vale at Bramall Lane six months ago. They travel to Staffordshire ranked eighth and one position above Micky Adams’ side.
“We still need to make a few improvements over the summer,” Clough said. “Like, for example, giving ourselves a few more options off the bench but we’ll be doing our level best to do that.”