Jack Ross said he was 'very proud' of his Sunderland players despite seeing their automatic promotion hopes fade on Saturday afternoon.
The Black Cats badly needed three points against Portsmouth and though they created the better openings in the game, they were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Technically they can still get past Portsmouth, Barnsley and Luton Town to finish in the top two, but in the case of the latter pair it will take an extraordinary swing in goal difference.
The reality is that Sunderland will have to start considering a play-off campaign and Ross says it is up to the Black Cats to reproduce that level of performance.
After a challenging year in charge, he insists the atmosphere at the Stadium of Light underlines how far the club has come.
"It's a strange feeling right now," Ross said.
"We wanted to win the game, and knew the importance of doing that but I think because of the level of performance, it's difficult for me to show too much disappointment. We played very well in difficult circumstances.
"As a manager I'll be judged by results, but when I came into this job and I look at today on and off the pitch I can feel very proud of the performance the players gave on the park," he added.
"The support and atmosphere within the stadium was terrific and it was only like that because we gave a performance, the two go hand in hand.
"We've come a long way in that period of time, so it's up to us to have more days like that."