The mood inside the camp as Jack Ross and his Sunderland players prepare for their biggest test yet

Jack Ross has backed his side to thrive in the biggest test of their promotion credentials yet.

Thursday, 20th December 2018, 8:28 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th December 2018, 8:38 pm
Sunderland are hoping for another special awayday at Fratton Park

Portsmouth are set for their biggest attendance in seven years when the Black Cats visit Fratton Park on Saturday afternoon.

Sunderland have two games in hand on Kenny Jackett's side and could go within two points of the top should they win.

Porstmouth have been in formidable form this season but did lose their last home game, with Charlton Athletic winning 2-1.

"I was chatting to Catts [Lee Cattermole] about it, he played at Fratton Park, I think with Wigan," Ross said.

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"He said it's a really good ground to go to.

"Everything I've seen of it and heard of it, it reminds me a lot of Tynecastle in Scotland.

"The size of it, the proximity of the stands to the ground, it creates a real atmosphere.

"I think I've got a squad who'll respond to that, they've responded in the big games this season. They're excited about it."

Portsmouth will be well backed but Sunderland, as they have done for every away game this season, have sold out their allocation.

Midfielder Luke O'Nien says that will have a big impact on the team.

“The fans definitely bring the best out of us," he said.

"Being on the bench, I normally look to my left and my right, and even when I’m warming up you see the away support. It’s different when you’re playing because you might zone out you’re so concentrated on the game but when you see them from the bench, it’s really incredible.

“If the other team score, which is rare, even then our fans are cheering to keep us going. It is incredible.

“When you come on in the last minute to see out the game and you’ve got the ball in the corner you can see how much it means to our fans. That’s why we always celebrate with them when we do get the three points.

“It’s a cliché to say they’re our 12th man, I don't want to be that guy! But but they are incredible.

"If I was the home team and I saw away support like that, you’re already on the back foot because they create a noise which kind of makes us the home team.

"Just look at Walsall when we came from two down with ten men. The fans were probably the reason why we turned it around. They contributed to that point, and that point could be crucial when we win the league."

Sunderland missed the chance to overtake Portsmouth when they drew with Wycombe a few weeks back, but Jackett's side have set an impressive pace.

Ross, however, has always insisted that his side must focus on their own output and has been pleased with the points-per-game ratio his players have reduced.

For Jack Baldwin, that is a considerable cause for optimism as the season reaches its busiest point.

"Portsmouth have started brilliantly," he said.

"You've been looking at the results this season and they've kept picking them up and kicking on.

"Psychologically it's a big thing at the weekend, if we can take all three points that would be a big point in the season. Then with so many fans on Boxing Day, if you go back-to-back it puts you in really good stead.

"You start stringing a few wins together, you're playing so regularly that it can make a real difference," he added.

"It's a vital time for us. It's a big time of year and it can define the season. You've seen it before where a team starts off well but fall off over Christmas and they find it difficult to get back on it again.

"It fluctuates and there have been teams previously who've been flying at this time, fallen off and missed the play-offs altogether .

"In previous years I probably was one to get straight on the phone after a game to see who had done what and how the table was looking. Probably now I'm more just focusing on my own game, on churning out the wins and everything else will take care of itself.

"We know we've got squad to win games and I've got more than enough confidence in them to do that and everything else will take care of itself."