Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill has warned only a patient approach will see the club build a foundation from which to launch an assault on the Premiership’s top four.
The Irishman was being hailed as a hero as Villa made a superb start to the season under his charge, climbing into third place and being tipped by some as Champions League candidates.
However, he never allowed himself to be carried away and knew tougher times were ahead. He said: "I was delighted with our start, but I also said we would need all of those points at some stage.
"People did not take me seriously when I said that and they wondered what I was on about. But it is a long season for everyone, whether you are Manchester United or Watford, and lots of things can happen in that time.
"I always felt that up until we could maybe strengthen the side in January - and even then there was no guarantee - we were a bit on the weak side, and so it proved.
"We have not got the ability to change things overnight. We might change one result, but the overall structure will have to change and that’s the fundamental issue of the football club.
"And it is actually getting time to do that. Winning some games buys you that time as a manager."
Villa launched the campaign with a run of 11 games unbeaten in all competitions and did not suffer their first defeat until a 3-1 league reverse at Liverpool on October 28.
They collected 21 points from the first 36 they contested to lie third in the table on November 11.
However, they have won just two of the 18 Premiership games they have played since to slip to 13th place, just seven points better off than relegation-haunted Charlton.
However, O’Neill, despite being able to recruit strikers John Carew and Ashley Young in January with the support of new owner Randy Lerner, insists he never expected to mount an extended challenge.
He said: "I was not expecting absolute miracles overnight, and that is the truth of the issue.
"We were not going to change feelings we’d had for some time - and still have - and find ourselves going from being a struggling side to one challenging the top four.
"That takes a bit longer. Tottenham have been at it for a while, Everton have been doing it and have succeeded once.
"We need to change and it will maybe be slightly more gradual than everyone had hoped.
"If it did happen overnight, I am not so sure we would have any fantastic foundation."
Meanwhile, O’Neill has revealed the club will open contract talks with 29-year-olds Olof Mellberg and Gavin McCann early next month.
The pair have 15 months left on their current deals, and Villa will attempt to tie up their futures after the Premiership clash with Everton on April 2.
O’Neill told the club website: "I have said to them I will speak to them shortly after the Everton game.
"Gavin will be around, but Olof is away on international duty, and we will get the Everton match out of the way and then that clears us up.
"I know we have then got two games in quick succession after that, but we have got an opportunity, and the players know we will be discussing their futures."