STEVE BRUCE insists Sunderland still cannot class themselves as an established Premier League outfit despite being on course for their best season in a decade.
A run of four successive defeats has dampened hopes of a challenge for Europe yet Sunderland remain eighth in the table and on track for their first top 10 Premier League finish since 2001.
In their three previous seasons since returning to the top flight, Sunderland narrowly avoided the drop in the first two and then harboured relegation fears until a late revival in Bruce’s first year in charge.
Although Sunderland are not involved in the relegation dogfight this time around, Bruce believes the club needs to challenge in the top half year-on-year before they can take their Premier League status for granted.
“When I arrived here 18 months ago, my brief was to turn Sunderland into an established Premier League club after being a yo-yo club in previous years,” said Bruce, who signed a two-year extension to his contract last week.
“We want to be an established Premier League club which is not easy these days.
“If you look around you, sides such as Blackburn and Bolton have been in this division for 10 years and Wigan have been up here for six. Establishing yourself in the top division for that long is massive.
“For instance Everton, who we played last weekend, have been in the Premier League since the year dot and when you’ve been up there for a long time it makes a big difference.
“Their manager and players know what it is like to be in the top flight year-in, year-out and for me they will finish in the top 10 again without a doubt. That is something we would like to emulate.
“But after four years, I don’t think we can say that we are there yet – not with our history.
“Since winning promotion under Roy Keane, we’ve only been in the Premier League for four years in a row. We’ve got to make sure that we stay in there for the long haul and hopefully mounting a challenge for a top 10 place will help us along the way.”
Sunderland enjoyed back-to-back seventh placed finishes under Peter Reid and Bruce remains confident they can emulate their most successful Premier League campaigns despite his longest losing sequence as boss.
Bruce added: “We are having a tough time at the moment but there is still more than a quarter of the season to go. I said at the start of the season that a top 10 finish was what we would be aiming for and that is still achievable.
“We have got players who are on their way back from injury and they will give us a lift towards the end of the season.”