Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has set his sights on a top-eight finish next season, but accepts that it will be a difficult target to achieve.
The Black Cats finished in 13th place in the Premier League last term, with Bruce targeting a major improvement in the campaign to come.
He told the Sunderland Echo: "I think it will be very difficult for us to break into the top teams group next season, though that has got to be the aim.
"They're some distance ahead of the rest, both in terms of resources and of being established in the Premier League.
"They're teams that are either super-rich or have benefited from the financial success that finishing high up the division regularly will bring.
"As a club, we are playing catch-up compared to where we have been in the leagues and where we want to be.
"Hopefully we've jumped one of the biggest hurdles now in that I think we are now being seen as a genuine Premier League club.
"Hopefully, by the end of next season that will be a question that will not even be put any more.
"If we stay up next season then we'll then going into our fifth consecutive season and I think people will be looking at us differently.
"There'll be no question Sunderland will be a Premier League club at that stage."