Captain Lee Cattermole thinks Sunderland can only get better under Martin O'Neill next season.
The Black Cats spent the opening months of the current campaign under the management of Steve Bruce and struggling desperately in an attempt to find their feet at the wrong end of the Premier League.
On Sunday, Sunderland will bring down the curtain on an eventful season when Manchester United head for the Stadium of Light.
The home side, who came under the control of O'Neill last December, will do so with Cattermole relieved in some ways to see the back of a difficult season, but relishing the prospect of his return to work in July.
The midfielder said: "It's a tough game, isn't it? Every season is hard for different reasons.
"This season, we lost Steve Bruce, which was a shame, but it happens and we had to move on. We picked up quickly under Martin O'Neill and we have gone from strength to strength.
"In the last couple of weeks, we have maybe not got our foot in front in games we felt we could have.
"But pre-season will be big for Sunderland this year and there will be a lot of time to prepare for the first game."