NEWCASTLE United captain Kevin Nolan has hailed the job Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has done at the Stadium of Light ahead of the Wear-Tyne derby this weekend.
And the midfielder insists the Black Cats should be looking at getting into Europe this season.
Nolan has more reason than most to be looking forward to this Sunday's big game, having written his name into derby folklore back in October with a hat-trick in the 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland at St James's Park.
Since then, however, Sunderland have bounced back superbly and their run of form has pushed them up to sixth in the table, just two points behind Premier League champions Chelsea.
Newcastle are hanging on to their coat tails in eighth and Nolan insists the fact that both sides are doing well is a refreshing change from previous campaigns.
He said: "I joined this club before the derby two seasons ago and made my debut in it.
"At that time, it was almost as if the clubs were dragging each other down, so it is nice to be going into one with both teams going well in the Premier League.
"That is what we want. No matter what, we want healthy competition in our region and the fact is that Sunderland have a fantastic chance (of Europe).
"Steve Bruce has done a great job there.
"I know he has had a lot of money to spend, but he still has to produce the results and I think they have done really well. Hats off to them.
"Hopefully, if we get the money, we can spend like they have done and then start pushing them because they have really got to be looking at Europe, while we are a team that has just come up and cannot allow ourselves to get carried away about what we have done this year.
"We're eighth and they're sixth.
"It's great for the region and really sets up the derby.
"We have got to be so happy the way we have come into the Premier League.
In the meantime, Nolan insists Newcastle must be on their best form if they are to get anything against a team who will be going all out for revenge after their Halloween horror show at St James's – warning United to be aware of a "wounded animal".
"The derby is going to be a classic," added Nolan.
"Obviously, they are a wounded animal after what happened at St James's the last time we met.
"But it is up to us to go there and make sure we put in another professional performance.
"Hopefully if we do that, our strategy goes according to plan."
Meanwhile, Newcastle are to appeal Cheik Tiote's sending-off in their 3-1 defeat by Stevenage in the the FA Cup on Saturday.
The midfielder was shown a straight red card by referee Andre Marriner for a lunging tackle on Jon Ashton in the 71st minute at Broadhall Way.
Tiote, who has impressed for the Magpies following his summer move from FC Twente, is currently set to miss Barclays league matches against Sunderland, Tottenham and Fulham.