Jack Ross defends players after Sunderland's 13th draw and delivers verdict on promotion hopes

Sunderland boss Jack Ross.
Sunderland boss Jack Ross.
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Jack Ross has launched a strong defence of his Sunderland players and believes the club is well positioned to achieve promotion despite their 13th draw of the season.

Sunderland started brightly at home to play-off hopefuls Blackpool but fell behind to a stunning strike from Armand Gnanduillet 31 minutes in.

Will Grigg, who had an effort saved moments before they scored, then missed a sitter in the second half, shooting wide after rounding Mark Howard.

Thankfully it didn’t prove too costly as Jack Baldwin powered home a header from a Grant Leadbitter corner to secure a point, the sixth in the last eight games.

Sunderland haven’t scored more than two goals in a game since mid-December, the draw leaving Sunderland fourth in League One, gaining just a point on leaders Luton Town and second place Barnsley.

Sunderland are ten points adrift of leaders Luton but do still have two games in hand.

Asked if it was becoming harder to take the positive, Ross said: “It depends how you look at it. “Our remit is to get out of this league. We are fourth in the league, so do we want to be top?

“Of course we do.

“Are we in a position with 16 or 17 league games to go that we can achieve promotion? Absolutely.

“We have only been beaten twice this season, scored in every league game.

“It depends how you view it.

“There are 50 per cent of people out there who will say it is not good enough, 50 per cent will be realistic and say it is alright.

“I am happy to discuss that with anyone.

“For me, that group of players, what they have done since the summer, the challenges they have dealt with, tonight is another example of it.

“They had a sticky patch for 15 minutes and it was a bit uneasy in the stadium, they had two choices at half-time - come out and play the second 45 in the same manner or show the

character they have shown all season. They did that.

“For me, they deserve to wear that jersey. I will put my name to that all day long.

“They keep doing that, they will get their rewards one way or the other. It is a really interesting aspect of managing this club, the extreme of emotions at times is wide.

“It is my job to make sure it is realistic and there is a realism about what I am saying and a pragmatism about it that needs to be there for us to try and progress.”

How close does Ross think Sunderland are to stringing together the run of wins that will be needed to seal automatic promotion?

He added: “Tonight was for me the best we have played in a number of weeks.

“Just looking at this game in isolation then yeah it is almost there. The frustration this time was playing well and not winning it.

“If they keep replicating that type of performance, that was more like how we played earlier in the season, the energy we had. It was more reflective what we want.

“If we do that, starting Friday night then it gives you a bigger chance of winning the game, there is no guarantee as football is not an exact science.

“The performance level, if we keep doing that, we will win more than we won’t over the remaining fixtures.”