The Black Cats are currently 12 points better off with nine games still to play than they were at the end of the 2005-06 campaign, and Whitehead believes there is little comparison between the club then and now.
He said: "We could end up in mid-table this season, so that's what we are looking towards.
"We are not looking towards the bottom, we are looking towards 12th, 13th, the middle of the table, and we will be pushing to do that.
"The squad we have now has much more quality, there are more characters in the team than we had before.
"We are looking to stay up and build for the following season."
As difficult as the experience of relegation was that season, Whitehead admits it has made him stronger both as a player and as a person.
He said: "At a big club like Sunderland and other big clubs around the country, you have got to be mentally strong to take the ups and downs of what is thrown at you.
"But I have definitely come out a lot stronger from the relegation a couple of years ago."