Jack Ross has this message for his Sunderland players and explains how they'll approach crunch Portsmouth clash

Jack Ross has urged his players to embrace the challenge at Fratton Park on Thursday night
Jack Ross has urged his players to embrace the challenge at Fratton Park on Thursday night
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Jack Ross has urged his players this week not to sit in and defend their narrow lead at Fratton Park.

Chris Maguire’s spectacular volley at the Stadium of Light last week means that they travel south 1-0 up ahead of the second leg on Thursday night.

Portsmouth have sold out their ground and are certain to produce a fevered atmosphere.

Ross admits that his players will have to be sensible in the early part of the game, but wants them to get on the front foot when possible and get the goals that will seal their progression to Wembley.

The Black Cats boss is not expecting Pompey boss Kenny Jackett to spring any major tactical surprises and believes his players will be patient in their search for an equaliser.

But Ross knows the Fratton Park crowd will be expecting attacking intent and will prepare his squad for that.

“We'll take the approach like it was a normal league game,” Ross said.

“No game away from home did we go and approach saying that we didn't want to win the game.

“We'll approach it trying to win the game but we'll be mindful of what we'll face in the opening part of the game as well.

“Portsmouth at home, the atmosphere being created knowing they're a goal behind, they'll come and take the game to us.

“We certainly won't go to sit and protect the lead for the whole game, we'll go to win knowing that if we score in the game, it gives us a great opportunity to progress.

“We've certainly trained as if we're just going to play a normal league game.

“It's about being sensible in terms of, we know we'll be challenged but we trust that we're a good team and we've played well for big parts of games against them this season.

“It's about replicating that and knowing that if we do, we give ourselves a good chance of winning not only the tie but winning the game on the night.

“Both sets of players will try and approach the game psychologically as if it is 0-0 to start, but the crowd will know that they start a goal behind,” he added.

“We've got to make sure we don't go the other way in terms of just protecting that, but equally I'm sure Kenny will be saying that they don't have to go and score in the first ten minutes.”

The clash at Fratton Park will be the fifth time the two sides have faced each other this season, the last two occasions seeing confrontations at the full time whistle.

Ross is not concerned about that but admits staying composed has been a key part of his message this week.

The atmosphere will be fierce but Ross believes his players will thrive on it, and has urged them to ‘stand tall, put their chest out and deal with the challenge’.

“I don't bother too much about it,” Ross said.

“There's a familiarity and a competitiveness between the players.

“We'll touch on it a bit as a group but we won't make a big deal of it.

“I've spoken to players individually, they understand the importance of being composed and disciplined in the game in different aspects, primarily with the ball but secondly in terms of controlling your emotions.

“I must admit, we've played each other four times but I've not sensed, I've not seen any tackles that I've thought ridiculous or over the top.

“It's been physical, competitive, but I've not seen anything between the two teams that was out of order.

“Everything else that goes, I enjoy that.

“We've got quite a lot that are looking forward to it [the atmosphere], ready to go,” he added.

“Players that have played in atmospheres like that, that have handled it and that thrive in it. “As a manager, it's a good stadium to play football in, a proper football stadium, and we had a taste of that in December.

“It's one you where you walk out there, stand tall, put your chest out and say I'm going to try and deal with the challenges it brings.

“I'm confident I've got a group that will do that.”

Portsmouth midfielder Gareth Evans raised the stakes after the first leg by criticising Sunderland’s post-match celebrations, and saying that his side intended to ‘batter’ the Black Cats at Fratton Park.

Ross, though, was thrilled that his players and supporters were able to bond after a long an ultimately improved campaign on home turf.

“I'm pleased that we won the game because I personally think that the players deserved it.

“For us to have the chance to thank the supporters like that was appropriate as well.

“So I would have been frustrated if it hadn't worked out that way and we hadn't been able to do that.

“It's not always as easy to do on the back of a negative result, but there's been a lot of positives this season.

“I've said often enough that it can be easy to be enveloped by the external noise around this club and it's really important so stay focused and clear-headed in so many ways. I thought the group of players did that in the build up to the game, we were a little foggy in the first half but after that they were good.

“So it was just nice to finish the season there in that way.”

Ross will hope that positivity continues into the biggest game of the campaign yet.