Jon McLaughlin on Sunderland's big promotion frustration, Portsmouth draw and a potential play-off campaign
It will be a source of real frustration that in a week of challenging fixtures, Jon McLaughlin barely had a save to make.
Yet a points total of just two from the clashes with Peterborough United and Portsmouth means that Sunderland are all but out of the automatic promotion picture.
Few would say that it is these games that have ultimately cost the Black Cats, but Luton's defeat to Burton Albion rubbed salt into the wounds.
Barnsley's win at Blackpool would have left Sunderland relying on a final day slip-up but Mick Harford's side, so long the runaway leaders, have opened the door.
“We thought it was going to be a race just between ourselves, Portsmouth and Barnsley but with Luton’s current form, it’s frustrating that in these last five or six games we’ve dropped so many points," McLaughlin said.
"It’s always difficult with the run-ins we’ve had, the international break, the cup final, it’s been such a packed run-in it’s very difficult but the lads have given everything and they keep giving everything but you can’t dwell on what could have been. There’s still a lot to play for.
“Promotion is still our objective and we’ll keep going and try to win every game. If we have to win five games or two games, that’s what we’ll do."
McLaughlin felt Sunderland were the better side on Saturday afternoon but had high praise for fellow Scot and goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray, who made a number of fine stops.
“To say it was a game where two teams had to win, we were definitely the only team out there who looked like we were doing everything we could to get the result," McLaughlin said.
“We’re very frustrated with a 1-1 draw. We’ve created so many opportunities, their goalkeeper’s played fantastically well to stop us getting the second goal and we’ve limited them to so few chances but in the end they’ve scrambled a goal. It’s very frustrating that we haven’t got the rewards for the performance we’ve put in.
“[Craig MacGillivray] has played very well and sometimes that happens and you just can’t get that goal," he added.
"He’s put in a performance that’s earned them that point and stopped us getting a win.
“Barnsley won so it still wouldn’t have been in our hands but we have to keep going because there’s still two more games.
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“Luton lost so you never know what could happen. We just need to go into these two games and try our best to put in good performances and see where it leaves us at the end of the season and then take it from there.
Sunderland now face two challenging encounters before the likely play-off campaign begins and McLaughlin has urged his side to take good form into that final stage of the season.
“We need to put in good performances, whether it’s to turn something around and get the miracle we need or whether it’s to make sure we have good form and momentum in to the play-off games," he said.
“We’ve got to believe the season isn’t finished and go into every game the same as we have been and see what happens.
“We’ve just got to keep focused, keep working hard, and if we have to do it via the play-off route, there’s players in that dressing room, myself included, that have done it that way before.
“Every game matters, no matter what. Southend are fighting in the relegation zone, Fleetwood will want to have a big day and get a result against Sunderland.
"They’re difficult places to go so you’ve got to give it your full attention and give those teams the respect they deserve, we’re in the same division as them. And there’s still things to play for. Until you’re mathematically out of it, until it’s done, you’ve got to keep putting in performances for the fans, for the club, for yourselves.
“If you come up short and you’ve got to continue in the play-offs you need that form and that mentality going into those games because they come around very quick.
“You just keep going and move into the next game," he added.
"They come around thick and fast, the semi-final games. You just have to believe that over two legs we’ve got more than enough to beat any other team, whoever it is we face. You just have to focus yourselves again and the season continues.
“We just have to get these two games played first, then we’ll see where we are then."