Jack Ross described Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes as a ‘longshot’ following the 1-1 draw with Portsmouth - but insists the players will keep giving everything to achieve their target.
Sunderland are now six points adrift with just two games to play, the Black Cats need Barnsley, Luton and Portsmouth all to drop points in the final week.
Sunderland took the lead nine minutes in, recalled Tom Flanagan powering a header from Max Power’s free-kick to open the scoring.
Despite further chances to extend their lead, the Black Cats were pegged back, Jamal Lowe taking advantage of some slack defending to prod home a 24th minute equaliser from close range.
Sunderland continued to press and enjoyed the better chances as the game wore on, Lewis Morgan and sub Will Grigg both hit the woodwork while Charlie Wyke had a strong penalty claim turned down.
Portsmouth have proved a difficult opposition this season, this game coming less than a month after the Checkatrade Trophy defeat on penalties at Wembley Stadium.
And in the end frustrated Sunderland had to settle for another draw, their 19th of the campaign and a key factor why the lottery of the play-offs now beckons, barring a mathematical miracle.
Ross said: “I think because we still have that outside chance of achieving what we want automatically, albeit a longshot, but the only way that becomes a possibility is if we win Tuesday.
“We have had a consistency about everything we have done this season, the way we prepare, conduct ourselves, and that will continue to be the case.
“We want to continue the performance level today into Tuesday at Fleetwood, hopefully win the game and again Saturday and see what lies ahead for us after that.
“The encouraging thing is we produced that level of performance against a good team, do that, over the next couple of games and if there are more games after that then we’ll be okay.
“The players are desperate to win promotion, their hunger and desire obvious from their performance.
“If you look at two teams needing to win the game there is only one team that has been able to do that in the latter part, that is not because I don’t think Portsmouth wanted to, we were just good for large parts.
“We created a lot of good opportunities, a very good goalkeeper who had a terrific game.”
Ross said: “I couldn’t have asked any more of my players, the performance they gave, they came into the game with big pressure.
“To produce that level of performance in those circumstances, I am proud of them for that.
“It is a frustrating day for us because, unfortunately it is not an exact science, effort and good performance doesn’t always guarantee you get what you deserve.
“We have to dust ourselves down, that group of players couldn’t have done anymore to win the game.
“You can’t overlook that. If we find ourselves in there (play-offs), then they’ll be games in isolation, and they’ll have their own intensity and atmosphere around that.
"I suppose for both teams involved today, neither will want to be there, but if they are there, they’ll have had a flavour for what the games will be likes because today had an intensity about it on the pitch and also an intensity in terms of the atmosphere around it. That’s what those games would be like as well.
"The encouraging thing for me is that most of time, if not always, when we’ve had those types of games in the stadium, we’ve produced performances. I’d be confident that we’d do that again.
“We’ve played a lot already this season – I think that was our 56th game – so that’s a lot of games and a lot of work.
"Physically and mentally, the players are fine. They’re a fit group and they’ve showed that again today.
"If anything, you can use that as increased motivation because that’s a lot of hard work that you don’t want to go to waste. You want to get what you think you deserve from the season, so they’ll be okay in that respect. They’ve got plenty in the tank."
Sunderland travel to Fleetwood Town on Tuesday evening to play their game in hand before the season finale away at Southend United next Saturday teatime.