Defender Neill Collins has warned Sheffield United’s rivals that they aren’t resigned to the Play-Offs just yet - insisting: “We’re not giving up without a fight”.
United’s entertaining 2-2 draw with Brentford on Tuesday saw them surrender all control over their top-two destiny.
They moved up to fourth, despite being denied a precious three points by Bradley Wright-Phillips’ late leveller.
Perhaps crucially, however, they now only have one game in hand on second-placed Bournemouth - and trail Eddie Howe’s side by five points, with an inferior goal difference.
United, who face three final games against bottom-half opposition in Portsmouth, Crewe Alexandra and Preston North End, seem destined to enter the Play-Off lottery for the second successive season.
But, until it is mathematically impossible, Scottish defender Collins insists United still believe they are capable of gatecrashing the top two.
“We’re not going to give up without a fight,” Collins said.
“You’ve seen that throughout the club’s history, and we’ve never done anything else.
“You have your own professional pride, and if we play the way we have recently then we won’t be far off.
“But at this stage of the season, it’s about winning games.”
In the week since Danny Wilson was removed from his post as United’s manager, Chris Morgan - his predecessor - has guided United to a healthy return of four points from two games against United’s Play-Off rivals, Swindon Town and Brentford.
As well as important results - as well as goals - the two games have seen improved displays from United, who had previously failed to score at Bramall Lane in over six hours of football.
“I guess the increased intensity is just down to human nature,” Collins added.
“Not for myself, because I try to maintain the same level of performance all the time, no matter what.
“But some players do raise their game under the insecurity of a new manager.
“It’s the same in any workplace, when a new person comes in.
“It’s almost a fresh start. Chris and David (Unsworth, Morgan’s assistant) have to take some credit for that.
“But that’s nothing against the previous manager, either. He put a lot in place, and Morgs has just taken that forward.”
Speaking to the assembled press after the draw with Uwe Rösler’s side, Collins admitted that Tuesday night’s events had not yet sunk in.
Referee Keith Stroud awarded four penalties, with both sides scoring and missing one.
Stroud also sent off Brentford’s Tony Craig and Clayton Donaldson, as well as United’s Harry Maguire.
“The players have realised that we need to up our game at this stage of the season,” Collins added.
“Over the last two seasons, whenever we’ve had a blip we’ve always responded pretty well.
“We did that for Danny, and we’ll do that for Morgs too. Now it’s just about doing it for a long period of time.
“But we have a good set of characters in the group, which can only help us. If we’d have beaten Brentford, that would have put a big marker down.
“Morgs and Unsy are still very upbeat, however, and now we have to go to Portsmouth on Saturday and win.
“That will keep our confidence up, and we’ll see what happens.”
After his red card for two bookable offences, Maguire will miss Saturday’s trip to Fratton Park.
Danny Higginbotham seems the obvious choice to partner Collins at the heart of the United defence - but Morgan has also hinted that young Callum McFadzean, who he has seen at close quarters this season for the club’s under-21 development side, could come under consideration.
“The referee’s decisions were questionable, for both teams,” Morgan said.
“There were two good teams out there with everything to play for, so of course it’s going to be competitive. But the game needed managing.
“Harry will be a big miss - he’s more or less been an ever present since he came into the team, and he’s really grown over the last two seasons.
“But as a young centre-half, he’ll have to get used to decisions like that.
“He’s got himself into a position to deal with the danger, and then he’s been penalised and sent off.
“Sometimes decisions go against you, and he was frustrated and annoyed.
“I’ve had a word with him about his reaction towards the referee - he was never going to change his mind.
“So we have to accept it - as difficult as it is to take sometimes, we have to.”
“We have a number of options to replace Harry,” Morgan added.
“Matty Hill can play there, Callum could come in at left back, or Darryl (Westlake) could play at right back.
“We have a good set of options in the squad.
“I said to the players a week ago when we started doing this, that everyone will play their part in the run-in.
“We’re seeing that already - it’s the nature of football.
“Things will change, players will get sent off or pick up injuries.
“But I know we have got the players ready and capable of coming in to the team.”
Asked whether Brentford’s late equaliser had confined his side to the Play-Offs, Morgan said: “To be honest, four points from the two games are really good points.
“If you are of sound mind, you’d have taken that.
“But I am confident that we will face Preston on the last day of the season, here at Bramall Lane, with a chance of automatic promotion.”