LEE CATTERMOLE says Sunderland will be hot on the heels of arch-rivals Newcastle United next season as they bid to earn their own taste of the top six.
Newcastle’s victory at Chelsea last night left the Magpies 20 points ahead of Sunderland after taking the North East’s top dog crown for the first time in four years.
But Sunderland skipper Cattermole insists little separates the two sides on the evidence of this season’s derbies and he is confident that the Black Cats can begin to challenge themselves for a European spot under Martin O’Neill.
Cattermole said: “Newcastle are up there in and around the Champions League places and it gives us something to aim for.
“We are not far short of them, to be honest. In the games we have played against them, I think we have been stronger than Newcastle, but we will see what happens next season.
“There are a lot of strong teams in the Premier League and a lot of sides can finish up there in the top places. Our job is to make sure we are one of them.
“We have got great support, a brilliant manager in Martin O’Neill and we are a massive club.
“The boss has so much experience and I think if you look around all the other top clubs in the Premier League, Sunderland are right up there.
“Outside the top four, we are as big as anyone and that is where we need to be in the future.
“We need to aim high and, under Martin O’Neill, I am sure it is going to be an exciting few years for Sunderland fans.”
Cattermole believes the make-up of the Premier League has changed since he made his top flight debut as a 17-year-old for Middlesbrough in 2006.
The midfielder, who returned to the Sunderland starting XI against Bolton last weekend after a knee injury, believes the league is becoming more of an even playing field – highlighted by Newcastle’s challenge for a Champions League spot.
“It is good for the Premier League that there are other sides willing to press on and push themselves up against the likes of Tottenham and Everton. Teams are starting to catch up a little bit,” added the 24-year-old, speaking at the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation Golf Day at Rockcliffe Hall.
“There is not a single easy game in the Premier League these days.
“All teams have got ability in them and there is a lot more football being played.
“It is very high tempo, but the game has moved on again definitely from when I started.”