HAVING gone four matches unbeaten and climbed out of the bottom three for the first time, it is little wonder defender Steve Caldwell is more optimistic about what lies ahead - regardless of Sunderland's opposition.

The Black Cats face Manchester United, Newcastle United and Arsenal in three of their next four league matches, as well as taking on the Gunners in the Carling Cup later this month.

But the daunting fixture list is not something Caldwell, or the rest of his team-mates for that matter, are worried about.

And the straight-talking Scot insists that it was because of the big occasion matches that Sunderland were so desperate to return to the top-flight - a status they are not about to relinquish without a fight.

"The next three games sound tremendous. It's better playing these teams instead of going to Brighton or Burnley that's for sure," said Caldwell, who will return to St James' Park on October 23 for the first time since moving to the Stadium of Light in the summer of last year.

"We wanted to be in the top league, playing the top teams. In among those we have got a local derby, which will be nice and a magnificent atmosphere for the lads who have never experienced it before.

"We are all looking forward to it. We will be giving 100 per cent and hopefully it will be enough to get a result."

Had Sunderland not surrendered their slender goal lead against West Ham they would have taken five points from a possible nine - a far cry from the opening six games when they failed to win any.

Failing to take the three points against the Hammers was harsh on Sunderland, who had dominated the first 30 minutes of the second half when Yossi Benayoun struck the equaliser out of the blue for the visitors.

Israeli Benayoun latched onto a loose ball that fell into his path after a ricochet off Tommy Miller's head proved just too quick for Caldwell's outstretched boot to stop.

But Caldwell believes Sunderland's display was one of the best he has been a part of since moving to Wearside - including numerous performances in last season's title winning Championship campaign.

"It was a superb second half. We were well on top of them and it was the most we have been on top of a team since I have been here," said Caldwell.

"There have been a lot of magnificent performances while I have been here and this was one. The best? I don't know but we certainly deserved the victory. They had an element of luck with their goal and how we have not picked up three points I don't know."

Manager Mick McCarthy should find out within the next 24 hours the extent of the hamstring injury which forced midfielder Christian Bassila off in the first half.

Read more about Sunderland here.