Sheffield United boss Danny Wilson admits that his side must deal with the burden of Bramall Lane expectation if his side are to achieve promotion from League One this term.
Wilson’s charges sit comfortably in the Play-Off positions, in fifth - five points clear of seventh-placed Coventry City.
They are, however, just one point behind Swindon Town in third - albeit having played a game more.
Wilson spoke about the expectation levels at Bramall Lane after his side’s “disappointing” draw at Notts County last weekend, when they went ahead after 90 seconds thanks to Harry Maguire’s header, only to concede a late leveller and return to Sheffield with just one point.
“We were disappointed with Saturday’s result, there’s no doubt about that,” Wilson, who saw United’s scheduled game at Bury on Tuesday night fall victim to the weather, told The Telegraph this week.
“We got ourselves into a good position and we haven’t taken advantage of it.
“From there, the fans expected us to return with the three points, and rightly so.
“But it’s now time for us to rally together as a group; we can’t be too downhearted - we remain in fifth, and that’s probably a realistic place for us to be at the moment.”
While keen to avoid using it as an excuse for United’s faltering form, Wilson pointed out that the absences of key personnel through injury - including Shaun Miller, Neill Collins and Matt Hill - have left his already-thin squad almost threadbare.
“From that point of view, I wasn’t too disappointed that the Bury game was called off,” Wilson said.
“We couldn’t train on Monday because some of the lads couldn’t get into the training ground, and from our point of view it gives some of the injured lads that extra few days to try and recover.”
“The level of expectation at Sheffield United doesn’t surprise me,” the United boss added.
“But there has to be a degree of realism in those expectations.
“Over the last couple of seasons we’ve lost some very good players, and people have to understand that.
“We want to get back to the level of performance we showed last season, but we have to get back to that level of players, too.
“There’s a bit of patience needed.”
Since Wilson accepted the United job in 2011, amidst a backdrop of supporter unrest, he has won over 53% of his matches in charge and, in two seasons in League One, United have lost just 14 matches from their 74.
Tranmere Rovers and Doncaster, the league’s top two sides, haven’t yet beaten United this season and Wilson’s men remain just six points behind them both, with a mouthwatering trip to Tranmere’s Prenton Park scheduled for March.
There remains a lot of football to be played between now and then, however - beginning on Saturday, with a trip to the Madjeski Stadium to face Premier League Reading in the FA Cup.
Whilst admitting that promotion back to the Championship remains the ultimate goal, Wilson insisted that United’s game plan for the Reading game remains the same - to go there and come back with a victory.
“The expectation and the priority is promotion at the end of the season,” Wilson insisted.
“Because we have a break from the league and because it’s an FA Cup tie, it doesn’t change how we’re going to prepare for the game.
“We’ll go to Reading, we’ll look to turn out our best performance as always and if we come out with a win, that’ll be a magnificent result against a good Premier League side.
“Of course we’ll be looking to win the game, but the league is our priority - there’s no getting away from that.”
One player especially looking forward to the trip to the Madjeski will be striker Dave Kitson, who scored 54 goals in 111 starts for Reading before earning a £5.5m move to Stoke City.
“Kits is due a goal,” Wilson said.
“He’s been a few games without a goal now so he’ll be desperate go get one, and what better place than back at Reading?
“Hopefully he can go back there and show exactly why they got so much money for him.”
United, who haven’t won in the league since beating Scunthorpe United on Boxing Day, return to League One action next Friday when they host Coventry at Bramall Lane.
Wilson, who expressed concerns about the state of the ground’s playing surface earlier this month, hoped that a run of away games would allow the Bramall Lane pitch sufficient time to recover.
Meanwhile United, who are reportedly interested in Sunderland striker Craig Lynch, expect striker Shaun Miller to return to training in pre-season.
Miller sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury in the Boxing Day win over Scunthorpe.
Striker Chris Porter could also shortly leave on loan, with a host of clubs interested in his services.
Porter, who has scored just six league goals in 47 games since signing for United in 2011, hasn’t appeared for the club since the 0-0 draw with Tranmere Rovers on December 15.
n Follow Danny on Twitter: @dannyhall04