NEDUM Onuoha believes Sunderland must prove their upward curve by beating last season’s points tally before they can look further up the table.
Steve Bruce’s men are seven adrift of their 44-point total from last year ahead of a tough run of games which sees them face four of the top six over the next five outings.
Despite talk of Europa League qualification, right-back Onuoha insists the Black Cats need to better that tally before challenging to finish comfortably inside the Premier League’s top 10.
Onuoha said: “I think we could finish very high this season, but there are a lot of very difficult games coming up in the next month and a half.
“Then after that we’ve got games which we could win, based on our league position.
“You never know where you might finish, but it’s down to ourselves and hopefully we won’t have to rely on any favours to finish as high in the league as possible.
“To begin with, improvement would be getting more points than last season – I think we need seven more for that.
“You’d like to think we can do that within the next month or two.
“But as for an actual position, the ambition at the start of the season was to finish in the top 10.
“Once you can tick that off, there’s nothing to stop you from pushing on to the next position, and the next one and so on.”
Sunderland suffered back-to-back defeats for only the second time this season at Stoke City last Saturday after paying the price for defensive errors.
The last time Sunderland went on a two-game losing streak – against Manchester United and Blackpool – they bounced back with a comfortable win over Blackburn.
On-loan Manchester City defender Onuoha hopes Sunderland can improve at the back to achieve a repeat scenario.
“It has come as a shock to start conceding goals, but some of the games we’ve done well in we’ve had a bit of luck,” said the 24-year-old.
“Certain things have gone against us recently, but we just made some mistakes that could have been made at any point in the season.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we manage to get a few clean sheets between now and the end of the season.
“The way the league is now, like Arsene Wenger said, if you draw games it’s like you’re being punished.
“A lot of teams are having to go for the win a lot more than they were earlier in the season.”
He added: “We’re a very disappointed bunch of players after last Saturday because we went into the game trying to win it and we were in a great position.
“Unfortunately we made a few mistakes at the wrong time and it cost us three points.
“At the end of the day, we should be able to see out the game like we have done in the past.
“It makes myself and the other players more determined. There’s nothing worse than when you lose a game. You just want to get to the next game and win that.
“You can never really feel sorry for yourselves because that’s going to get you into a situation where you lose every single week.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had that this season, the most we’ve lost on the bounce is two and we’ve come back with a win after that.”