JACK ROSS has told his Sunderland players to forget about the pressures of the promotion race for the next two weeks and ensure they soak up the build-up to the Checkatrade Trophy final.

With this weekend’s trip to Fleetwood Town having been rearranged because of international call-ups, the Black Cats have a two-week break before they return to action against Portsmouth at Wembley.

Ross has always insisted that lifting the Checkatrade Trophy is of secondary importance compared to the overriding priority of winning promotion to the Championship, but with the league programme on the back-burner for the next fortnight, the Sunderland boss is happy to let his players shift their focus.

For the majority of the squad, a Wembley final is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Ross is determined to ensure each and every one of his players makes the most of it.

“I’ve told them to clear their heads because for the next couple of weeks, there’s nothing we can do about the league,” said the Black Cats manager. “Let’s enjoy a bit of a rest, enjoy the lead-up to the final and the final itself because that’s something that as a whole club we should enjoy.

“Up until now, the final is not really something we’ve mentioned much around the club. But I’ve encouraged them to do that now. Once they get this rest out of the way, I want them to enjoy the lead-up to the final because you just never know how often you’ll get to play in one.”

While Jon McLaughlin, Tom Flanagan, Lewis Morgan, Will Grigg and Benji Kimpioka will spent most of the next fortnight on international duty, the bulk of the Sunderland squad will get a rare chance to recharge their batteries in the next few days.

The preparations for Wembley will begin in earnest at the end of this week, and Sunderland’s players will travel to London at the end of next week ahead of their Sunday final.

Ross is keen to strike the right balance between rest and training as once the Checkatrade final is out of the way, the Black Cats will embark on a manic end to the league season that will see them play their final nine matches in the space of just 32 days.

By the time they return to League One action, they will have three games in hand on the majority of their promotion rivals, and Ross wants to make sure his players are in peak mental and physical condition for what is sure to be a demanding run-in.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fractured week with some players on international duty,” he said. “We’ll have a bounce game which will allow some players to maintain match-fitness for the games coming up, but we’ll also have a few days off as well to allow them to recharge for the games coming up after the cup final.

“It’s a bit different for us in terms of the whole structure of the week, but it’s designed in a way that will hopefully help the players physically and mentally to enjoy the lead-up to the cup final, hopefully win the cup final and then the period after that.

“This is the last opportunity to get any period of rest into the players because there’s no doubt that’s going to be tough for us as a club. That’s challenging, I don’t care what anybody says. We believe we’re good enough to deal with it, but we need every single person to contribute.”

To that end, Bryan Oviedo’s return from injury should be a bonus, with the Costa Rica international expected to be available for the Checkatrade final. Chris Maguire is further behind in his recovery schedule, and currently looks unlikely to make it in time for Wembley. He should, however, be able to play a leading role in the final month of the league campaign.

“Chris is still working his way back, and Duncan is out for the season,” confirmed Ross. “To be fair, Bryan is the one who’s closest, he’s just lacking match-fitness but hopefully we’ll address that this week.”

Oviedo’s return will strengthen the level of competition at left-back, with Reece James having established himself as a virtually uncontested first-choice pick in the position during his team-mate’s absence.

Maguire’s return will enhance Sunderland’s attacking options, with the summer signing from Bury having been an extremely influential figure in the first half of the season, and having provided a more recent reminder of his capabilities when he made a game-changing appearance from the bench in the 2-2 draw with Accrington Stanley.

“I think they all understand they're going to get opportunities between now and the end of the season because of the schedule we have,” said Ross.

One of Sunderland’s main rivals for an automatic-promotion place, Barnsley, have been rocked by another serious injury blow. The Tykes have already seen their leading scorer, Kieffer Moore, ruled out for the rest of the campaign, and now influential midfielder Kenny Dougall has been told he is unlikely to play again this term after breaking his leg in Friday’s draw with Doncaster Rovers.