Sunderland midfielder Boudewijn Zenden has warned his team-mates they will have underachieved if they do not secure a top-10 Barclays Premier League finish this season.
Just a few weeks ago the Black Cats were being considered genuine candidates for European qualification after spending much of the first half of the campaign in and around the top six. However, their recent slump in form, coupled with the recoveries staged by the likes of Liverpool and Everton, have seen them slip to ninth.
Zenden said: "Obviously, you set your targets. Target one has always been finishing in the top 10 and, if you look at the team we have got, that's definitely something that we should achieve."
He added: "If we don't we have underachieved because last week we only had five or six players left because everyone was gone with the internationals, and that means you have got quality in your squad.
"With that quality comes certain expectations, and one of those is definitely finishing in the top 10. That's what we should still aim for and start picking up the points."
Such is Sunderland's form that January signings Stephane Sessegnon and Sulley Muntari are yet to play in a winning team.
The calendar too has been unkind with the club playing only twice in March as a result of their early exit from the FA Cup and the international break. Zenden admits the season is long and gruelling, but insists the enforced lay-offs have been frustrating.
He said: "If you talk about fatigue, we do have a big squad with quality players.
"If you look at, for example, what we did last year, we also had international players on the bench, which means that if you do have players who are tired, you can use others who are actually still of a certain level so that your team doesn't become weaker.
"I agree it has been a long season, but more so the last two months where we have played only a handful of games when, for example, in December-January, we played I don't know how many in just a few weeks."
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