Jaap Stam insists he is still confident of Reading making the play-offs despite a difficult run of form.
Royals, who sit fifth in the Championship table, put their top six credentials to the test tonight (7.45pm) with a trip to face the side directly below them in Sheffield Wednesday, knowing defeat could see them drop out of the play-off places over the weekend.
A six-game unbeaten run during January and February saw Reading threaten to gatecrash the automatic promotion places, but three defeats from the last five has suddenly left them looking over their shoulders.
But Stam says the difficult recent run, which continued with a 3-0 reverse at Preston North End on Saturday, has not dampened spirits within the group.
“We are still in a very good position,” said the boss.
“We’ve put ourselves in this position and everybody wants to end up in that position.
“We need to play big games against very good teams, not only on Friday but after that there are still eight games to go which are very big as well.”
He continued: “I said throughout the whole season that it wasn’t going to be easy for us.
“It’s very hard to get in the top six. The players deserved to be there because, to put it bluntly, they’ve been working their balls off to get there without any belief from a lot of people from the beginning of the season.
“They’ve done very well up until now, they deserve to be there and we’ll try to end up there.
“We’ve put ourselves on the map by doing well this season. We’re in the top six at the moment.
“We’re very confident. I’ve got the utmost confidence in the players and the team.
“They need to enjoy it, stick to what we’ve been doing throughout the whole season, then I’m very confident we’ll end up in the top six.”
Midfielder Joey van den Berg has come straight back into the side in recent weeks after a
brief spell on the sidelines with injury, excelling in home games against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United.
And the Dutchman shares Stam’s confidence of ending in the top six, but says now is the time to start showing it on the pitch.
“When you have a disappointing result at the beginning of the season, you say there’s loads of games,” he said.
“But now there’s not loads of games anymore so we need to act.
“I’m confident we can do it, but we need to do it.
“I think the missing link (from recent results) is that if something goes wrong, we don’t know how to react.
“The normal reaction would be everyone close together and stick to a plan from there. But we actually run all over the pitch and do nothing.
“We need to learn from it because otherwise we maybe go down a few places and that is not what we want.”
Royals’ squad has been stretched in recent weeks with a number of injuries.
Liam Moore and Paul McShane (both hamstring) should be fit to face Wednesday but Liam Kelly (hamstring), Jordon Mutch (hip), Tiago Ilori (knee) and Callum Harriott (hamstring) are among those likely to miss the trip to Yorkshire.
“It’s the end of the season and the strongest remain,” said van den Berg.
“We need everybody in the squad to help each other out and get the best results.
“Of course you get injuries and suspensions. It’s always hard when you play with Liam (Moore) and Paul (McShane) at the back and they’re not there, but it’s up to the rest to react to that.
“I think we have the quality for that.”
He added: “I’m very, very curious about Friday’s game.
“I know Sheffield Wednesday play in a certain formation, but that’s all I know.
“Before you know it, it’s the end of the season. In January we were talking about loads of games, but now there is not so many games anymore.
“It goes fast now and that’s why we need to focus on each other to get through the final part.”