Sunderland threw away two late precious points in a ‘gut-wrenching’ draw with Peterborough United - with Jack Ross now focused on lifting the players for the final three games.
Max Power fired Sunderland ahead in the 87th minute on a hot day at the ABAX Stadium, the Black Cats looked set to keep up the pace with Barnsley and Portsmouth who had also both won.
But a Matt Godden leveller a minute into seven added-on minutes was a late sickener for the Black Cats.
Ross says he couldn’t ask anymore of his players and is ‘desperate’ for them to achieve promotion success this season.
The draw left them fourth, now four points adrift of Barnsley, though they still have a game in hand, their automatic hopes are no longer in their own hands.
“That level of emotion at the end of the game makes football so appealing for people, but it also makes it gut-wrenching at times too,” said Ross.
“To score so late and the elation you get from that, then the deflation at the other end, it is sore.
“There is no magic words to take that away. It is my job to lift them, not their job to lift themselves.
“Myself and the staff will lift them, we have a big home game Saturday we want to win.
“I have said it all along the number of points the teams at the top have accumulated and that has made the margin for error low all season.
“It gets less now the season gets towards it climax.
“At times this season, particularly away from home, maybe I have had to talk over parts of disappointing performances but that wasn’t the case today, we played well for large parts, particularly the first half.
“We were very resilient, it was a quiet dressing room at the moment. To put that much in and not get the three points is hard to take.”
Peterborough United are pushing for a play-off spot, with Posh now three points outside a top six place. It was a lively atmosphere all game, the action end-to-end despite the hot conditions.
Ross added: “They are a good side, this is a tough league and we have competed at the top end all season.
“Every single game we play away from home there is a different feel. It felt like a cup tie and was played like that, the pace of the game was ridiculous given the conditions.
“That is what we have faced all season.
“To tough it out as much as we have done the players deserve credit, they shouldn’t be criticised for it.
“They have done a lot this season. They keep being where they are and still be up there, still giving themselves a chance.
“Our aim is to simply win the remaining three games.
“I don’t mind them being sore just now, or quiet. It is my job to lift them, I will do that through the course of the week.
“When we get to the middle of the week, they are refocused again.
“We have another game coming up, we are a good side with good players and strong characters.
“I am just desperate for them to get their rewards, they have put so much in to it this season. It was sore to take.
“It hurts me but they are the ones on the pitch, they put so much into that game and had to deal with the physical side of it.
“You are trying to win the game, not settling for a point away from home.
“They are quiet just now but the ones in there that are strong characters, they will gather themselves and we will go again.”