Sitting 21 points behind rivals Dundee United, James McPake accepts his Dundee side have fallen short of expectations this season.
And he insists the only way to make up for that is to finish the campaign on a high, starting on Saturday at home to Arbroath.
The Dark Blues have pushed themselves right back into the race for the coveted second spot in the Championship in recent weeks.
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They have picked up seven points from the last nine after winning just one of the previous nine on offer.
With leaders Dundee United all but assured of the title, the benefit of one less play-off tie to be navigated at the close of the season is the next best prize on offer.
James, though, insists the runners-up spot isn’t the be all and end all for Dundee.
He said: “I’m wary of saying we need to be second – we need to be in the play-offs regardless of what position.
“I think it would be disrespectful to Inverness, Ayr, Arbroath and Dunfermline, too.
“There are still so many teams that can threaten for the play-offs.
“We feel good performances are coming at the right time because if we hit another bad spell, it wouldn’t be second place we are looking at, we wouldn’t get fourth.
“It is a crucial point of the season and we need to make sure over the next few games we come out positively.”
With United speeding away at the top as Dundee struggled to find form consistently, James revealed the pressure has been felt at Dens Park.
“I think when you’re not winning when you are expected to, it’s hard,” he said.
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“There is an expectancy here that we should be at the top of the league and closer to Dundee United – we know we should be.
“That’s not the case, so how do we make up for that?
“We finish the season strongly and give ourselves the best chance to get out of this league.
“The pressure is part of what you sign up for. I’ve been there as a player having the pressure of having to win.
“It’s a little different as a manager because you are the one picking the team.
“You need your good players to play well and your team to be set up well. You need to keep believing in what you are doing and we have done that.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve won three in a row or been beaten three in a row – you need to win the next game.
“That’s the way I look at it.
“If you believe in your work and the things you are doing it will turn around.
“It has at the moment but it would be foolish to think we have turned a corner.
“Keep doing what we’ve been doing, all stay fit and healthy, then we’ll have a right good chance of getting out of this league.”
The key for the Dens boss is to avoid runs of form like they have suffered on more than one occasion this season where they struggled to find victories.
He’s pleased his side appear to be heading in the right direction but warns there is plenty of work to be done yet.
“We haven’t been anywhere near good enough and I still don’t believe we are yet – we have had runs of three games before where we looked alright and getting the fourth or fifth one has been big for us.
“In these mini-runs before we have blown up around this time and then failed to recover, that’s been the big disappointment when something has gone against us.
“Twice this season we have lost three games in a row and that’s criminal. That can’t happen again.”