George Honeyman believes Sunderland can be satisfied with their season to date given the ‘massive’ changes over the past year.
The Black Cats face Portsmouth in the Checkatrade Trophy final on Sunday before resuming their quest for automatic promotion from League One, with eight league games in April.
Sunderland dropped to fourth following their free weekend due to international call-ups, five points off second-place Barnsley with two games in hand.
Honeyman, though, believes Sunderland deserve credit for their approach this season, with opposing teams raising their game every week against the biggest club in the division.
The skipper said: “I think we are exactly where we want to be at the minute. Everyone expected us to win the league by a country mile but that was never going to happen.
“I think it was only a year ago when we had gone a whole calendar year without winning at home, so to now get this far unbeaten at this stage is fantastic
“I don’t care what league it is, it is tough to do it any league. Ask any one who has been promoted, it is never easy.
“I have not played one game this season and thought that was easy. Everyone wants to battle with us.
“We are in a massive changing period, whole new squad of players, owners, so to be where we are and in a cup final so far has been successful.
“We just have to stay positive and keep working hard and I am confident we will get to where we need to be.
“People could look at it [Wembley final against Portsmouth] as a distraction. It could be a great thing.
“Let Barnsley and Luton worry about their results.
“We don’t have to think about the league, we can go and enjoy a cup final.
“We should be immensely proud. How many times have people at this club enjoyed themselves in the last few years? Not many. I’m pretty sure everyone will.
“We have to enjoy that as a club because you don’t know how many cup finals you will play in, probably not too many.”
Honeyman added: “It’s mad [how many games played this season]. It shows the importance of the squad we have.
“Everyone has played a part and been important. We went out of the FA Cup and League Cup relatively early as well, imagine.
“The manager knew what he was doing by building the squad he has.”