Middlesbrough striker Ashley Fletcher says Sunderland helped make him the player he is today - and hopes they will be in the Championship next season.
Fletcher endured a difficult loan spell at the Stadium of Light last season after joining in the January transfer window.
He scored only two goals and failed to help keep the Black Cats in the Championship under Chris Coleman.
This season, however, Fletcher has found some form under Boro boss Tony Pulis, and scored twice in midweek in their win over Bolton Wanderers.
However, he admits the experience at Sunderland, playing for a 'huge club', has helped his game and improved him as a person.
“I think the experiences of last season have helped me, 100 per cent,” he told the Northern Echo.
“In a strange way, I have to thank Sunderland. I went there as their number nine, and it’s a huge club. I hope to see them back in the Championship next season.
“In a weird way, it was definitely character building for me. I had to grow up a lot and handle a lot of things. The biggest thing was that I never ducked the issue, and that’s been important for helping me develop as a player.
“We all knew we were in trouble, but I didn’t hide away, and so whatever is thrown at me in the future, I know I can handle it and deal with it.
"As long as you go out there and give 100 per cent, that’s all you can influence as a player. That’s an important lesson I learned.”
Sunderland moved into the automatic promotion places in League One in midweek with a 1-1 draw with Burton Albion.
Boro, meanwhile, remain just outside the Championship play-off places after losing six games in a row before the Bolton win.