Tom Lees has warned Sheffield Wednesday’s Championship rivals that they will come back even stronger following their promotion near-miss.
The centre-back cut a forlorn, devastated figure after the Owls’ loss at Wembley to Yorkshire neighbours Hull City last month.
Mo Diame’s sublime strike broke Wednesday’s hearts and condemned Carlos Carvalhal’s side to another year in the second-tier.
Despite falling short at the final hurdle, the Owls still enjoyed their best season of the new Millennium, finishing sixth in the league and reaching the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup.
With a few more additions, Lees, a linchpin of a Wednesday defence which chalked up 17 clean sheets, reckons they can be a force to be reckoned with once more.
“We have shown we are a good side and we probably didn’t get going for two or three months in the league,” he told The Star.
“We will be better next year and improve over the summer.
“Hopefully we can get off to a flier and kick on from there.”
There will be no starting from scratch for Carvalhal or Wednesday this summer. The vast majority of the first-team squad have committed their long-term futures to the club and Carvalhal has already overseen a style change which suits the players he has at his disposal.
“We know more about each other and what we are about,” conceded Lees. “We now know how we play from minute one so that will only be a good thing.”
However, Lees expects the fight for a top-six finish to be fiercely competitive.
The defender acknowledged: “It’s going to be a difficult league so we’ve got that to put up with as well.”
Losing at the national stadium was the “hardest moment” of Lees’ footballing career. He struggled to hold back the tears as the team paid tribute to the 40,000 Wednesdayites who travelled to the capital.
Speaking nearly an hour and a half after the final whistle, an emotional Lees said: “We had the chance to go up and we are devastated really, to be honest.
“I don’t know what to say and I am so upset.
“You saw how good our support at the end was and we have lost...That almost makes it harder.
“I have never felt so bad lying on the pitch and when you look up and see everyone, it is horrendous.”