OXFORD United are still striving to force their way into the play-off picture but head coach Michael Appleton admits the club are making preparations to play in Sky Bet League One next season.
The midweek defeat at Oldham Athletic left the U’s facing a mammoth task to force their way into the top six before the end of the season.
And ahead of back-to-back home games against high-fliers Scunthorpe United and Bolton Wanderers, Appleton acknowledged his side were effectively in the Last Chance Saloon.
“Absolutely,” he said.
“The players are capable, but there are five or six other teams who are just as capable.
“I’m a realist and we’ve won 15 games this year.
“For us to win seven out of ten as an absolute minimum, that still might not be enough, is a tall order.
“The most important thing for me is a couple of decent performances and then start thinking about the bigger picture.”
Forward planning has been a strength at United, particularly when recruiting players.
The foundations for last season’s promotion from League Two were laid a couple of years ago, when several transfer targets were lined up so the U’s could seal deals quickly.
Last summer was far more chaotic, with promotion not secured until the final day of the campaign and followed by an unexpectedly high turnover of players.
Appleton is keen to avoid a similar scenario, so United have taken the pragmatic approach of planning for a second season in League One.
He said: “We probably have for a few weeks – you’ve got to.
“Most of the players I bring in to the side will be to compete in the Championship.
“I think we need a few experienced players who’ve been very good at this level to help them and get them to where they want to be.
“Then we replace them, that’s how football works.”
Appleton expects to get an answer from the board about his budget for next season in the next few weeks, but his goal has not changed since arriving in July 2014.
He said: “I’m very ambitious. I came to the club because the ambition and desire was to get to the Championship.
“As long as that is still there, there will be no issues at all.”