JACK ROSS does not feel Sunderland have had the credit they deserve for what they have achieved this season as they head into tonight’s League One promotion tussle at Barnsley looking to edge closer to the top two.

The Black Cats, who had an appeal against George Honeyman’s red card at Wycombe on Saturday rejected last night but he can play in the Checkatrade Trophy final, are looking to close the four-gap to the Tykes knowing they still have a game in hand on their rivals.

Defeat, though, would make things a lot more difficult for Sunderland in the remaining ten matches to return to the Championship automatically and that has been the target since the opening day of the campaign.

At times Sunderland have had to endure criticism because of disappointing displays or a failure to turn more draws into victories, and that has annoyed Ross because he knows his team’s record is one of the best in the country.

Ross said: “Every club that has been on a huge run gets praise for it, I don’t think we do.

"We have not been beaten since November, not often does that get talked about. Barnsley have not been beaten since November and everyone talks about that.

“We have spoken a lot about resilience, strength and character. The players have shown that. We have had a focus on what we want to achieve but never got caught up in what other people are saying.  “If you did then you would believe you were absolutely brilliant one week or horrific the next. You need to maintain a sensible balance. It has to be backed up with reality.

“The fact is they have not had a bad season, to keep pace with those two at the top. Luton have had the best run in their history. Barnsley have not lost since November, not conceded at home for six games, all these records …   “We have had the best start to a calendar year here at Sunderland in the club’s history, but that doesn’t make as many headlines because people say it is League One. That’s garbage.

“They take the lead in that sense, we won’t use that as a negative. We recognise what we can affect is what we do. We can’t control opinions.  “If you look in mirror and believe you are doing things properly, produced performances and results, then that’s OK. We don’t need reassurance from other people and that’s been great.”

Sunderland will head to Barnsley without Honeyman after yesterday’s unsuccessful appeal. While the midfielder was set to miss the trip to Oakwell with concussion anyway, they now know he will miss dates with Walsall and Accrington too.  But Sunderland have confirmed he can play in the Checkatrade Trophy final against Portsmouth on March 31 after EFL clarified rules stating the suspension only includes league games.  Honeyman tried to prevent the Wycombe bench holding on to the ball in the dying seconds of Saturday’s 1-1 draw. That sparked a bout of pushing and shoving that eventually resulted in him being sent off along with Wycombe midfielder Nathan Tyson.

A tempestuous game also saw Wycombe’s Marcus Bean dismissed for a foul on Duncan Watmore that has left him with an ankle injury that will be scanned to determine the extent of the problem.

Watmore has had a horrible couple of years because of two serious cruciate knee ligament injuries and he only returned to league action in December. Now, following that Bean tackle, it is hoped he will escape another long lay-off.

Ross said: “We don’t know for certain, without a MRI it is difficult to say. It is challenging for him, it is frustrating for me because he is a good player and made a bigger contribution this season than I’d have expected after what he had been through. Football is a sport where you run the risk of injuries, we hope it is not too serious for him first and foremost.”

The prospect of missing out on a Wembley outing in his first season back in full flow would be a further blow to Watmore, so everyone at Sunderland is hoping that he can recover in time.

“Emotions are high after matches, I am never a believer in looking too deeply straight after a match so it’s best to let things lie first of all,” said Ross.  “Players are going to be emotive after a game, when they come back in they settle a bit and are more balanced, that's when I like to speak to them.  “Genuinely speaking to George and Duncan, their immediate concern was missing the game at Barnsley and Saturday against Walsall.  “The final will be great but our main focus is achieving promotion, and these players want to keep producing. They will be devastated not to be available for league matches because they want to keep contributing.”

Sunderland know that three points tonight could be crucial in the race for the Championship, with Barnsley showing the sort of quality required too.

Ross, who is also without Tom Flanagan and Reece James tonight, said: “If you look statistically, the clubs who have dominated this season, gone on winning runs, recorded the fewest losses, in the EFL, the reality is that three of the clubs who have dominated are in this league.

“Barnsley have been consistent. It is about how we need to keep pace with the rest. Everything has been must win, I have never regarded any game as anything else. If you don’t you get criticised. Where they are in league doesn’t change our approach, every game is a must win.

“It will be a different game to Saturday because they will play in a different manner, very much set out to win.  "A lot this season we have been at our best in these games, we thrive on good atmospheres.  “Each and every game has been difficult, we have spoken of away games, atmosphere, it has made each and every one different.  "Tomorrow will be different, they were in the Championship last season, it's a big stadium, big home support, we have players who have proven they can play at a higher level, they will thrive on it. We will be respectful of that but also confident of dealing with the challenge."