Tony Mowbray says his young Sunderland side should relish the prospect of playing against the teams in the Championship top six.
The Black Cats boss said the club should be targeting the play-off positions as a longer-term ambition after a successful first season back in the Championship.
Sunderland face three of the top six in their upcoming three fixtures, starting with a visit from second-placed Sheffield United - but Mowbray says his side should not be intimidated.
"We shouldn't fear playing teams in the top six," he said. "We should see it as a challenge and somewhere we want to strive to be and to get to. Let's see how close we are to these teams.
"They're all big tests, good challenges. I don't feel there's any pressure on us other than to go and give it everything we've got in every game, so let's see how we get on.
Sunderland go into Wednesday night's fixture fresh off the back of an impressive 1-0 win over Norwich City.
They sit twelfth in the Championship table with 52 points on the board.
However, given the congestion of the division this year and with just ten games left to play, Mowbray said he is well aware of the difference a few positive results can make.
"What you don't want to do is get a group of inexperienced players worried, looking over their shoulders and looking at the table thinking 'if we lose the next two or three, and they're pretty tough games, we could be looking at getting dragged in.' I think we can go into the next ten games and just attack them really and be positive," he added.
"The madness of this league is that if we do win on Wednesday and we go on and beat Luton, suddenly you've won three on the bounce - and I don't know where the table will be - but we could be sneaking right in on the cusp of the play-offs again, with seven games to go.
"That's what I would like the team to try and achieve, to be flirting with the play-offs right till the end really, to see if we can create that excitement in the fanbase.
Once runaway favourites for the automatic promotion places, Sheffield United come to the Stadium of Light with just two wins in their last six games.
They sit three points clear of third placed Middlesbrough following their 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Tuesday night.
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