Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland are three points off the top of League One but can Kyle Lafferty fire the Black Cats back to the Championship?

January signing Kyle Lafferty says it is ‘unfathomable’ that a club of Sunderland’s size and stature is currently playing in the third tier of English football, while speaking to the Chronicle.

With their enormous fan base and their cavernous 49,000-seater stadium, a trip to Wearside almost feels like a FA Cup final for many a League One outfit.

That is meant as no criticism of sides like Rochdale, Wimbledon and Tranmere Rovers. It merely emphasises how far Sunderland, a Premier League team as recently as 2017, have fallen in recent years.

Northern Ireland international Lafferty joined the north east giants on a short-term deal until the end of the season last month and he, like many others, feels that this is a club who belong at a much higher level.

“It’s a brilliant club,” said the former Rangers, Hearts and Norwich City striker.

“It’s clear to see just how big the club is, and it offers me such motivation to help the club get to where it needs to be. I have come here desperate to make a positive impression.

“It’s probably one of the best stadiums I have ever played at. It holds 49,000 and for the size of this club it is unfathomable to see where we are in English football – it doesn’t make sense.”

If all goes to plan, however, Sunderland won’t be playing in League One for much longer. Phil Parkinson, after a miserable start, has transformed the Black Cats’ fortunes, lifting them to within three points of top spot in the midst of seven wins in nine matches.

When Lafferty gets going, having failed to score so far in Sunderland colours, their hopes of automatic promotion will be given another timely boost.

In other news, £18m Premier League striker really likes ‘magnificent’ atmosphere at Celtic