Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton still believes his crop are capable of challenging at the top of League One if they learn their lessons.
Town have slipped to 13th in the table following back-to-back 1-0 defeats against the top two, Portsmouth and Peterborough United, in the space of four days.
Going into Saturday’s derby against Blackpool, Barton’s players have now met six of the top seven.
In addition to those games against the leading pair, Town have drawn with Accrington Stanley and Sunderland, lost to Barnsley, beaten Doncaster Rovers and are still to meet sixth-placed Luton Town.
When asked if he still felt they could challenge Barton said: “I really do.
“Sometimes you have to get in a scrap with them to realise where you are.
“From what I can gather Fleetwood were not at that point last year.
“We are not a million miles away; we have lots of hard work to do, we have to be really smart about how we go about it.
“I am saying to the lads in that dressing room: ‘You have played the top six now, do you feel like you are capable of gatecrashing that and being part of it?’
“I think the group do. Yes, we have to be a bit cuter at key parts in the game but also there is not a massive gulf between the teams – that is this division.”
Four of their five defeats so far this season have been by the score of 1-0.
Nevertheless, Barton says that Tuesday night’s clash at Peterborough was the closest one yet as he took positives from the defeat.
He said: “It is a division with fine margins between lots of the sides; the most frustrating thing for me is that we have shown if we get it right we can blow sides away.
“I think that comes down to keep believing in the processes and doing what we are doing.
“We need to be more consistent, more switched on at key moments in the game.
“We have shown we can take the lead in games but we have not shown – as yet – how we respond to conceding goals because on the whole we have lost four games 1-0.
“We must get better at that. I thought we came on like a steam train there at the end (at Peterborough).
“We are not getting beaten four or five-nil or getting spanked by anyone.
“We are competing. It is just those little details, they are key.
“If we want to progress and get where we want to go we need to learn those lessons quickly.”