LIAM Lawrence will see the forthcoming season as an unqualified failure unless it ends with Sunderland in the Premiership.

The dynamic midfielder is hoping to make his senior Black Cats debut at Coventry on Saturday after returning from injury in last weekend's friendly win at Doncaster.

The disappointment of missing out on promotion last term still hangs heavy on Wearside and, while Lawrence only moved to the Stadium of Light in the summer, he too has scores to settle.

The 22-year-old was part of the Mansfield team that made it to May's Third Division play-off final, only to lose to Huddersfield Town on penalties.

He is desperate to go one better with Sunderland, and insists that promotion is the minimum requirement from the new Coca-Cola League season that begins this weekend.

"We need to win promotion for this season to be considered a success," said Lawrence, who is competing with John Oster for the right midfield berth at Highfield Road.

"This club needs to be in the Premiership - that is where Sunderland belong and hopefully that is where we will be this time next year.

"I'm confident that in 12 months' time we will be sitting here talking about our preparations for the Premiership season.

"I base that on what I have seen on the training pitches, and from what I know of Mick McCarthy and how ambitious he is. I really believe that we will be in a good situation this time next year."

Sunderland's new-look squad will travel to Coventry in a positive frame of mind after a crammed pre-season that has included an American tour and an unbeaten three-match journey around Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

There is a tangible sense of optimism that stands in direct contrast to the prevailing mood of 12 months ago. Then, Sunderland travelled to Nottingham Forest on the back of 15 successive league defeats and proceeded to lose 2-0, before slumping to a 1-0 home defeat against Millwall seven days later.

Those results created a downbeat mood that took months to dispel and, with home games against Crewe and QPR following hot on the heels of Saturday's trip to Coventry, Lawrence is desperate to hit the ground running.

"It's very important to make a positive start to the season," he said. "We have to get through the first three or four games without losing. If you lose early on it sets the wrong tone and gives the fans the wrong impression.

"It will be a tough league - there are good sides like Leicester, Leeds and Wolves who have come down, and the likes of Sheffield United are still in the division. We will have to be at our best and give 100 per cent every week if we are to get promoted."

Lawrence scored 18 times for Mansfield last season and has arrived on Wearside with a reputation for being an attacking midfielder who weighs in with his fair share of goals.

Julio Arca's six goals made him Sunderland's most prolific midfielder last season but, with McCarthy's striker search still continuing to draw a blank, the club's middle men will need to chip in on a more regular basis this term.

Crewe Alexandra's Dean Ashton became the latest frontman to be linked with the Black Cats yesterday but, while McCarthy is known to have monitored the 20-year-old hot-shot last season, he will need to dig deep to prise him away from Gresty Road.

Ashton hit the target 19 times as Crewe struggled to 18th place in the First Division but McCarthy is in no rush to bolster his frontline and is understood to have accepted there will be no new additions to his squad before Saturday's game.

The Midlands club have insisted that it will take a multi-million pound bid to prise him away and McCarthy will not rushed.

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