RETURNING midfielder Tom Cairney genuinely believes Blackburn Rovers have the potential to become one of the top teams in the Championship.

But the 23-year-old, who scored on his comeback match against Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday, feels it will be next season before that is realised.

The 3-3 draw with the Seagulls all but ended Rovers’ slim hopes of reaching the play-offs.

Cairney insists they will not give up on sixth spot as long as it remains mathematically possible.

But he concedes it may be beyond them.

Cairney said: “I think the management staff have got to take a lot of credit for what they’ve done turning Blackburn around this season, it’s great to be part of and hopefully the fans can see that.

“I do think we’re on the verge of something. Obviously it’s more than likely going to happen next season but I really don’t think there are that many teams than better us in the division.

“Ask any of the boys, there’s only Leicester, at their place, who have outplayed us, especially in the first half, and they’ve run away with the league and rightly so.

“So I definitely feel we’re on the verge of something, it’s just that it’s more than likely next season.

“We are looking quite attacking,” added Cairney, who linked up well with Jordan Rhodes, Craig Conway and David Dunn.

“I’ve not played much with Conway as I got injured at Reading, which was his first start, but he’s done really well.

“It’s also always nice to play with Dunny as he’s still got a great brain.

“We’ve had 12 clean sheets but we’ve not had one since Reading and if we can just sort that out I’m confident we can score every game.”

Cairney, a £600,000 January arrival from Hull City, took his tally for the term up to four on Tuesday.

The former Scotland U21 international said: “Tommy Spurr did really well down the left, I was able to catch up with him, get to the back stick, and, with the foot I’ve not used all season, put it into the back of the net which was great.

“But it was bittersweet as the horrible thing is conceding late on and only getting a point from the game.

“The three goals we gave away were not the best at all. We felt comfortable throughout the game, they only had four shots and scored three, which is immensely frustrating.

“We’ve got to learn quite quickly from it because if we’d won games like these we would have been up there.”