KIERAN Richardson is anticipating a summer of change at the Stadium of Light, but the Sunderland full-back remains determined to finish the current campaign with a flourish rather than a whimper.
Richardson returned to the starting line-up for the first time in nine games as the Black Cats drew 0-0 with Wolves in a game that was every bit as unremarkable as the scoreline suggests.
In the wake of the stalemate, Martin O'Neill hinted at a busy summer of transfer activity, and in his programme notes prior to the game, owner Ellis Short expressed a desire to push towards the top six.
That would surely necessitate significant change, and with Spartak Moscow midfielder Aiden McGeady being strongly linked with a possible move to Wearside, Sunderland's supporters are excitedly pondering how O'Neill's rebuilding project will proceed.
“If you look back at what has happened this season, the manager has come in and done so well,” said Richardson. “So I think the fans will be looking forward to next season to see what the gaffer is going to do.
“What do we need to improve the team? I think that's a question for the manager himself. He's the one who picks the team, so he's the one who'll know the answer to what's required.”
Before he can start preparing for next season, however, O'Neill must first negotiate the final four matches of a season that could realistically see Sunderland finish anywhere between seventh and 15th position.
Last year, they won two of their final four matches to haul themselves into the top half of the table, and the Black Cats will probably have to repeat that points haul if they are to secure a second successive top-ten finish.
That remains the minimum target, although having spent a couple of weeks in the top eight last month, Richardson is eyeing an improvement on last season's finishing spot.
“If we can get to eighth then that's progress from last season,” he said. “We're definitely looking to get there as long as it is still possible.
“It's so important to keep the momentum going over the last four games. We want to finish as high as possible and we're trying to finish in eighth because that's better than last season when we were tenth.
“Wolves are fighting for survival, so perhaps this was always going to be a hard game. Sometimes, I find playing the teams at the bottom is harder than taking on the sides near the top of the league. We had a few chances that we didn't manage to take, so now we have to move on and the next aim is to beat Aston Villa away.”