STEVE Bruce today challenged his Sunderland side to finish above arch-rivals Newcastle United and secure a top 10 finish in the process.
Sunderland guaranteed Premier League survival at Bolton Wanderers last weekend, but Bruce insists the Black Cats still have plenty to play for in their final two games against relegation candidates Wolves and West Ham.
Bruce’s target throughout the season has been to secure a first top half Premier League finish in a decade and Sunderland lie just a point behind 10th-placed Fulham heading into Saturday’s visit of Wolves (12.45pm kick-off).
But with only goal difference separating Sunderland from Newcastle, bragging rights are also up for grabs as the Black Cats look to take the title of North East top dogs for a third successive season.
“After winning at Bolton, a top 10 place is still there for us to aim at,” said Bruce (pictured).
“Even though we are now safe, there’s a lot riding on the run-in for us.
“Firstly, we want to achieve what we set out to do at the start of the season and finish in the top 10.
“But, also, we want to finish above the side up the road, Newcastle.
“This is a great opportunity for us to do that. There’s only goal difference between us and we’ve both got two games to go.
“It’s up to us, so let’s see if we can do it.”
Sunderland head into Saturday lunchtime’s game buoyed by two wins in three games.
But they face a Wolves side who took a giant step towards Premier League safety by beating local rivals West Brom last weekend to move a point clear of the bottom three.
If ex-Black Cats boss Mick McCarthy can secure only a third away success of the season, then it may be enough for Wolves to survive.
Bruce said: “There’s a lot riding on this game for Wolves in terms of them fighting against relegation and the fact that there is some added spice to it because Mick McCarthy will be back at the Stadium of Light.
“It’s always an occasion when a manager comes up against his former club.
“But we can’t let that distract us from achieving our own targets.
“Our travelling fans were magnificent at Bolton and we’ll have a big crowd behind us on Saturday so let’s produce the same kind of performance we managed at the Reebok.
“If we do that, we’ve got an excellent chance.”
* Striker Kevin Doyle’s return to full fitness means Wolves are almost at full strength for Saturday, with only David Edwards and Ronald Zubar definitely missing.