JACK ROSS insists he will make it his priority to lift Sunderland’s wounded players for the remaining matches of the promotion run-in after an automatic return to the Championship was taken out of their hands at London Road.

A dramatic end to the Black Cats’ Easter Monday trip south ended with Peterborough United snatching a late point deep into added time through Matt Godden after Max Power’s 87th minute strike had threatened to win it for Ross’ men.

The entertaining game’s exciting end would have seen Sunderland stay in control of the battle for second spot had they held on to Power’s lovely opener. Instead, though, Sunderland now find themselves behind Barnsley and Portsmouth in the pecking order.

Both teams won their respective Bank Holiday games and Sunderland, even if they beat Pompey on Saturday and then Fleetwood and Southend after that, know automatic promotion will still not be assured if Barnsley win their remaining games.

Sunderland’s players could not hide their deflation after the final whistle at Peterborough, who still have a chance of a top six place after sealing a point, and Ross now has a challenge on his hands ahead of the run-in to pick his players up.

“That’s the sort of situation that makes football so entertaining, exciting but then also so gut-wrenching at times as well,” said Ross. “To score so late, the elation you feel, then you are sore when you concede at the other end.

“There is no way you can get away from that until they realise it is my job to lift them, it is not their jobs to lift themselves. I will lift them. We have a big home match Saturday we want to win.

“The last thing I said in the dressing room was that I don’t mind them being sore. I will lift them, it’s my job to do that this week. By the time we get to the middle of the week we will be refocused.

“They are a good side in there, we have strong characters, and I am just desperate for them to get the rewards from their season. They have put a lot into this.”

While Sunderland will still hope for a further twist in the promotion run-in, the reality is there is a greater chance of them playing in the play-offs next month when that would require a second trip to Wembley of the season.

That means that psychologically the players can’t afford to dwell for too long on the heartache of conceding so late at Peterborough, where they didn’t deal with a long ball and Godden was afforded the time to touch and shoot on goal.

Ross said: “We will look at it now from a football point of view, but from a mentality point of view we have three games we need to go and win. It’s been taken out of our hands but if we win three then we will see where that takes us.

“I have said all along that the teams at the top have accumulated a huge number of points so the margin for error has been low. As the season gets towards a climax we knew the importance of trying to win every one of those remaining games, starting with Friday and we did that.

“And I felt we had done enough today to win this. I am disappointed because we played well for long periods, particularly first half. It is a quiet dressing room at the minute because to have put so much in and not get it is hard.”

Ross, who revealed Bryan Oviedo finished the game with a groin problem, also felt that it should not be ignored the fact that Sunderland were up against a decent League One side still in with a shout of a play-off spot themselves.

“The players came to a difficult venue against a good team with plenty to play for themselves, in difficult conditions, but to get in to that position we found ourselves in and not hold on to it is sore,” he said.

“Both teams made changes to try to affect the game in a positive sense because we both needed to win the game. Getting ourselves ahead in that position we then need to try to see the game out.

“I could not have asked more from the players because they were on their feet at the end of the game, both teams were. Fatigue can mean decisions can sometimes go awry.

“They are a good team, it’s a tough league. We competed at the top end all season and haven’t drifted away from it. Every single game we play away from home there is a different feel. This was probably the biggest crowd of the season here, not many spare seats.

“The pace of the game in this heat was ridiculous. To tough it out like we have this season, we should not be criticised. For us to be where we are, still in with a chance, and we will aim to win our three remaining games.

“They are quiet. They are on the pitch and have put so much in. They have had to drag themselves along, they are trying to win the game. They are strong characters and they will be ready to go again. Barnsley will have two difficult games to finish the season, we have three and we have that big one on Saturday.”