Stoke manager Gary Rowett has stressed Championship promotion is a marathon and not a sprint after his side’s goalless draw with Middlesbrough.
Last season Rowett was expected to take Derby back to the Premier League, but a post-January slump saw them finish sixth and lose to Fulham in the play-offs.
Slow-starting Stoke took five games to pick up a win and won just two of their opening 10 league games.
But the big-spending Potters have turned a corner of late and are now just five points shy of the play-off spots in a tight Championship table.
Just one defeat in their last seven fixtures and conceding just twice in their last six – including four clean sheets – has given Rowett the belief his side can mount a serious promotion push.
He said: “I’ve had a few seasons where we’ve been right at the top and we’ve tailed off towards the end.
“In that respect it would be nice to have a season where we start a little bit slower and build that momentum as the season goes on.
“The Championship is a long old season and there’s a lot of points to play for.
“I’ve said it before, apart from a couple of games this season I think we’ve been every bit as good, if not better, than a lot of the teams we have played.
“I know we’ve got that type of quality. What we’ve not managed to do is win a lot of the tight games and turn them into points.
“I believe we should have a lot more points than we have on the board at the moment. We’ve created some good opportunities again this evening and if we keep doing the right things then we will do well.”
Stoke’s star-studded front three of Benik Afobe, Tom Ince and Saido Berahino threatened throughout, but the Potters failed to infiltrate the most watertight defence in the Football League, which has conceded just eight league goals this term.
Rowett added: “I think what you find with a Middlesbrough side is they don’t give much away. When they need to block and defend for their lives they manage to do it really well.”
Boro boss Tony Pulis, who spent over a decade at the helm at the Bet365 Stadium, is still unbeaten against his former employers.
Pulis’ dressing room was struck down with a sickness bug in the build-up to the game, and he said: “It hasn’t been good and a couple of players have played today who haven’t been 100 per cent.
“What you’ve seen again is the players give everything for this football club. That’s all you can ask for.
“Everyone has bought into that spirit I want as a manager. They’ve shown it again today and that spirit takes you a long way.
“The conditions were very difficult to start with and both sets of players went about it in the right manner. A little bit of quality and composure in the final third could have won us the match.
“You’re always pleased with a point away from home. I know more than anyone how tough a place this is to come. I actually forgot how windy this place can be!”