LEE CATTERMOLE thinks the success of Newcastle United's first full season under Alan Pardew should act as an incentive to the Sunderland squad to make inroads on the European places themselves next time around.
Cattermole has been encouraged by the start the Black Cats have made to life under Martin O'Neill, even though there has been a drop in their impressive form since they were knocked out of the FA Cup.
And the Sunderland captain thinks the likes of Newcastle have shown this season that there is room for other clubs to threaten the Premier League's established top five clubs.
He is keen to ensure progress is made during the summer and again next season under O'Neill - even if there is not a great deal of money spent in the transfer market.
"There are a lot of strong teams in the Premier League and a lot of sides can finish up there in the top places," said Cattermole. "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."
Newcastle still have eyes on a top four place and, aside from the local rivalry which exists on Tyne and Wear, it is good for English football in general to have another team competing with the usual suspects.
Next season will be Sunderland's first full campaign under O'Neill and Cattermole hopes to be leading a dressing room intent on delivering European football themselves.
He said: "It is good for the Premier League to see what Newcastle United have done this season.
"They 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."
Sunderland head for Fulham on Sunday with little to play for, although the men from Craven Cottage can overtake FA Cup finalists Liverpool in eighth place.
And Cattermole, speaking at the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation Golf Day at Rockliffe Hall yesterday, said: "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.
"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."
O'Neill is already looking at ways of strengthening his squad for the new season and is prepared to look at the European market if there are better deals available.
He has already started to reduce the club's wage bill in a bid to create more space so that he can bring in his own players, with Cristian Riveros sealing a permanent switch to Kayerispor this week.
Asamoah Gyan is likely to be the next to leave full-time, but Al-Ain - where he is on loan - are likely to have to pay a few more million on top of the £6m loan fee to get the deal done.