FRESH from closing the gap on the Championship's top two, full-back Stephen Wright forecasts that Sunderland's chances of a Premiership return hinge on the club's home record.

Following Saturday's 1-0 success over Sheffield United, the Black Cats are now just a point adrift of Wigan and three shy of leaders Ipswich, after both rivals could only draw at the weekend.

Sunderland's victory came as a relief for the supporters after they had conjured up just one win in their previous four league matches at the Stadium of Light.

During that spell defeats against West Ham and Leeds, as well as a poor draw against Gillingham, hindered the Wearsider's push to climb into the automatic promotion places.

Sunderland take a break from Championship duty on Saturday when Mick McCarthy takes his players for a taste of Premiership life at Everton in the FA Cup fourth round.

Wright believes it offers the squad an opportunity to take a breather from the strains of trying to catch Wigan and Ipswich, but he insists moving up a division remains the highest priority.

After Saturday, Sunderland travel to Wolves for Friday night football at Molineux but then McCarthy's side have a run of games that should seriously strengthen hopes of promotion.

Sunderland have five home fixtures from eight matches and they do not face serious rivals for a top-flight place until they travel to Wigan on April 5.

And Wright said: "At this stage last year I think Norwich were ten points ahead of us and that was one of the main reasons why we ended up narrowly missing out on the top two. This season the two ahead of us are much closer and they have to go and play big teams.

"We have a decent run of league games now and we need to go and take points off the smaller teams.

"It is the games with the smaller teams that are vital to us because they have been coming to us and picking up points against us.

"When we play at the Stadium of Light we want to play teams off the park and sometimes you can't over do that. Some days it works when you can't seem to score and sometimes you can pummel a team 5-0.

"We are a good side and we know that. But if teams come to us and get a point they are chuffed to bits, so that's why it's hard for us."

Providing Wright comes through the rest of the week free from injury, the ex-Liverpool defender will line-up in the Sunderland backline against his boyhood heroes.

Like so many who have played for the red half of Merseyside - including Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman - the 24-year-old grew up a Blue before playing professionally for Liverpool.

And Wright is looking forward to taking to the Goodison Park pitch. "I have never played there before," he said. "I never even played there during my Academy days. There'll be quite a few of my family and friends there and it should be good."

Liam Lawrence had surgery yesterday on the ankle injury that has sidelined him since the win at Nottingham Forest on December 28.

If the operation has been successful the former Mansfield man is likely to be back in action by the middle of March at the latest.

* Tickets for Sunderland's trip to Everton are now on general sale. The club have been allocated 6,000 for the tie.

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