“It seems like three Championship seasons ago.”
That was Carlos Carvalhal’s reply when asked to reflect on his first ever match in charge of Sheffield Wednesday.
The Portuguese chief, the Owls’ first foreign manager in their 149-year history, kicked off his reign in style, masterminding a 2-0 Hillsborough victory over newly-promoted Bristol City last August.
Thirty nine matches on, Wednesday have chalked up another 17 Championship victories and lie in fifth position.
Tomorrow Carvalhal takes his Owls side to Ashton Gate chasing a fifth consecutive win for the first time under his tutelage.
“We have played so many games since (the opening day), and it’s been a long journey - a nice journey,” admitted head coach Carvalhal. “We have seen the team grow up.
“I was looking at the table and we were in 19th place after the first six games.
“We are growing up as a team and a club. A lot of things have changed since the first game of the season.
“We started building a team, added players, improve the team and tried to do our best.
“With the squad we have (at the moment) we think we can win against all opponents.
“Our defensive organisation is better, it’s not anything different to what we did (at the start of the season) but the players understand our ideas.
“They make mistakes, correct them, but don’t repeat them.
“We have a very good balance now between attack and defence. The third best attack and defence in the Championship. That’s fantastic, because to score goals and not concede is the correct balance, and the team has shown maturity.”
Fiftheen places and 24 points separate Wednesday and the Robins in the standings. City, now managed by former Barnsley chief Lee Johnson, are battling to retain their league status. With six matches remaining, they are currently seven points above the drop zone.
Carvalhal said: “Bristol City will be a very difficult game.
“They have changed their coach, changed their system, well-organised.
“They came here on the first game of the season and played with a back three, now they have a line of four. They are dangerous, good quality players, and are dangerous at set-pieces; corners, free-kicks and throw-ins.
“But we are in good shape, winning games, playing good football, and we feel strong.”
Brimming with confidence and self belief following their impressive sequence of results, Wednesday will head to Bristol aiming to further consolidate their place in the play-off positions.
“I don’t think our team is playing any better than when we played against Preston, QPR or Brighton,” insisted Carvalhal. “We are not playing better than before.
“There are small things - and I don’t want to talk too much about that - that make a big difference.
“If you can score, play with 11 players instead of 10, these sort of things can change a game.
“But all the time we play positive football, try to win games. This is what we have done all season, it’s our fingerprint on the Championship. That’s our style.”
Carvalhal, who will check on captain Glenn Loovens (ankle) today before finalising his team selection, is staying grounded in the race to go up.
“For me, the most important thing is to win the next game. I look to the future all the time,” said the 50-year-old, who has hinted Sam Hutchinson will play no part against the Robins, having struggled to shrug off a fever he sustained before the international break.
“My education and reality in the past was we are survivors. In Portugal, Greece, Turkey we were survivors all the time. That was my reality in the past.
“It’s not negative, because things in football change very fast.
“When you live many years, hearing ‘you must win the next match, if not you will be fired’, you create self-defences for yourself. You understand the future is more important than the present or the past.
“For me, obviously I am happy to have won four successive games, but the most important thing is to win the next game, at Bristol City. This is my future, I live not in the present, but the future.”
Living in the present has served Carvalhal very well up to now.