Jack Ross said Sunderland could be satisfied with their post-Wembley response after a 1-1 draw with Burton Albion.
The Black Cats missed the chance to pull three points clear of Barnsley but still climbed into second position.
Crucially, they retain a game-in-hand on Daniel Stendel's side and have their destiny very much in their own hands.
It was an open game against the Brewers, a contest Ross admits could have gone either way.
"For us, we always want to win games here, I've said that all season," Ross said.
"I've got to temper that by saying nine days ago we came out of Wembley, gutted at losing a final, fourth in the table.
"Nine days later we're second with a game-in-hand on some of the teams around that top part of the table.
"I think the [players] pushed and pushed and pushed tonight, we're quite stretched at the moment and that was obvious, then we had to make a change early in the game.
"We've had to work so hard for these points and even the way the game panned out on Saturday, a lot of energy went into winning late on," he added.
"Tonight the game was open and stretched. We knew the way we set up it was going to be like that, playing against a good team and a team that are good in forward areas.
"We accepted that in the hope that we would almost outgun them, it could have went that way but equally it could have gone the other way."
Sunderland did come close to snatching a winner in the second half, with both Charlie Wyke and Grant Leadbitter striking the woodwork.
Jon McLaughlin had to make two smart blocks, though, as Burton impressed on the counter attack.
The Black Cats are back at the Stadium of Light on Saturday to face Coventry City and Ross has urged them to make the most of their home advantage.
"Burton created opportunities through the game, I couldn't say that it was all one-way traffic," Ross said.
"We had a couple of really clear cut ones and when you hit the woodwork a couple of times, it becomes a little bit frustrating.
"But I'm just trying to lift the players in that respect, I don't think they could have pushed anymore and I think that Burton are a good side.
"They've got games to play against teams in the top parts of the table and they'll be tough matches [for the opposition].
"It's going to be physically and mentally challenging for all the teams at the top," he added.
"But I keep saying, where we are now and where we were nine days ago, it's a big plus for us.
"A big step in the right direction.
"We come back here on Saturday knowing a record here is very good.
"We've got three home games left, we can be near a points total alone that is edging very close to 90, and plus 90 gives you a really good chance of achieving promotion."