Tony Mowbray knows the bar will be raised next season after Sunderland's promising first campaign back in the Championship - and he is relishing the challenge. The Black Cats have exceeded expectations this term following their promotion from League One via the play-offs, with mere survival never part of the conversation on Wearside.

Instead, Sunderland have spent much of the season in and around the play-off race, with their chances only fading over the the last month or so as injuries have exposed the shortcomings of the squad. But next term, with the likes of star striker Ross Stewart and influential skipper Corry Evans set to return from the injuries that ended their involvement early this season, and a summer transfer window in which to strengthen the squad, there will be pressure to build on this season's achievements.

"The bigger picture now is that in the summer, we have to get recruitment right and players back that we know are important for this team," said Mowbray, in the wake of this weekend's 1-1 draw against fourth-placed Luton Town, who are on course to reach the play-offs for a second successive season. "It'll be a different challenge next year, and I'd like to get to the point where if we draw 1-1 with Luton Town, we're all really disappointed because we've got some really good players and a team we think should be beating Luton.

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"At this moment, I'm not sure I sit here and think we should definitely beat them with the team we're putting out. That feels negative, but it's not meant to because it's a reflection of the fact that we've got inexperienced players who are still learning how to play in the Championship against a team that have been built over a number of years and know exactly how they play and what is needed to win games in this league.

"I'd almost like to fast-forward ten months and see where the team is – and I think it will be so much better."

Sunderland go into the international break sitting 11th in the Championship, seven points shy of the play-off places, with eight games remaining. They will resume their campaign against runaway leaders Burnley at Turf Moor a week on Friday.


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