Northampton went down to a 17-16 defeat at stadium:mk as Stephen Myler’s superb last-gasp kick hit the crossbar and rebounded to safety.
The result means Saints head into the New Year sixth in the league standings with a big task on their hands as they bid to make it into the top four and the play-offs for the fourth successive season.
But Mallinder, who takes his side to seventh-placed Exeter on Saturday, is remaining upbeat about the current situation.
“We’d like to be top of the league, like every single club, but we’re realistic,” said the Saints boss.
“We know we haven’t played as well as what we’d like in every game but we also know we’re a good side. Sunday proved that.
“Even though we are now mid-table, we’re not out of the running.”
Some pundits have doubted Saints’ silverware credentials in light of league defeats to Leicester, Harlequins and Saracens (twice) this season.
But Mallinder says his squad will revel in the tag of title underdogs and he can’t wait to prove people wrong during the second half of the season.
“There will be a few people and I can see some in the room who have written us off, but we quite like that,” said the director of rugby after Sunday’s defeat.
“There’s a long way to go and we’re looking forward to the second half of the season.”